General Articles

Albuquerque Public Schools Amends Contraception Disbursement Policy

The Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) policy committee recently voted to revise a school district policy that prohibits school-based health clinics from dispensing contraceptives to patients. Under the proposed revision, non-APS employees would be allowed to distribute condoms and contraception at the clinics. The policy committee voted in favor of the proposed change on November 8, 2010, along with nine other policy revisions.[1] The revision must come before a vote by the full board in order to take effect; the full board plans to review recent policy revisions before the end of the year.[2]
School-based health clinics are operating at nine APS schools, including three high schools, five middle schools, and one elementary school.[3] The University of New Mexico jointly operates the clinics with the APS, although the school district does not provide direct funding to the clinics. Moreover, a number of the clinics are run by providers who are not employed by the APS.[4] Clinic staff currently cannot distribute condoms or birth control on site but they can write prescriptions for birth control or provide referrals to other doctors.[5] While the policy’s current language states that “birth control devices and medication will not be dispensed at school sites,” the proposed language states that “birth control and medication shall not be dispensed by Albuquerque Public Schools.”[6]
School board members voting in favor of the policy argued that the proposed policy revision is necessary for compliance under the New Mexico Family Planning Act and the federal Title X family planning law. According to the state’s Family Planning Act, no health facility can include in its policies or bylaws “a statement that . . . interferes with the physician-client relationship in connection with the provision of any family planning service.”[7] APS school clinics also receive Title X federal funding and therefore under federal law the school district cannot prohibit the distribution of birth control by federally funded programs without passing a policy to ban the practice.[8]
“[I]f we’re going to have school-based health clinics in our schools, then we have to accept the fact that there is a doctor-patient relationship that we can’t interfere with,” commented APS Superintendent Winston Brooks. “[The revised policy] clarifies that APS employees cannot distribute condoms but that we’re not going to interfere in the doctor-patient relationship.”[9]
Despite the charge by federal and state mandates to update the policy, some board members and parents disagree with the proposed revision. The issue to revise the rule was first introduced in September 2010 but was tabled and reintroduced in November when it passed out of the policy committee. Board member David Robbins opposed the proposed changes, stating that the updated language would violate a parent’s religious rights.[10] Robbins also argued that the proposed revision would conflict with the school district’s purpose: “I do not think [the proposed policy] meets the education mission of APS. We’re in the mission of education, not the mission of enabling any form of behaviors.”[11]
“We commend the APS policy committee’s efforts to align the district’s policy with federal and state law,” comments Jen Heitel Yakush, director of public policy for the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. “In respecting the right of students’ physician-client relationship, the district would be ensuring that young people receive the medical services and resources they need to continue leading healthy lives and help to prevent poor health outcomes that may inhibit academic success for New Mexico’s young people.”

[1] Hayley Heinz, “APS Affirms Migrant Policy,” Albuquerque Journal, 9 November 2010, accessed 17 November 2010, <>.

[2] Crystal Gutierrez, “APS Wording Revives Contraception Issue,” KRQE News Channel 13, 15 September 2010, accessed 17 November 2010, <>.

[3] Ibid.

[4] “APS May Evaluate Contraceptives In Schools Policy: State Law Preserves Doctor-Patient Relationship,” KOAT ABC Channel 7, 16 September 2010, accessed 17 November 2010, <>.

[5] Heinz, “APS Affirms Migrant Policy.”

[6] Albuquerque Public Schools, “JL4: School-Linked and School-Based Health Services Clinics, “reviewed 8 November 2010, accessed 17 November 2010, <>.

[7] New Mexico Family Planning Act § 24-8-6 A(1), 2006, <>.

[8] Gutierrez, “APS Wording Revives Contraception Issue.”

[9] “APS May Evaluate Contraceptives In Schools Policy.”

[10] Heinz, “APS Affirms Migrant Policy.”

[11] Gutierrez, “APS Wording Revives Contraception Issue.”