Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is leaving the sensitive decision of whether to offer the contraceptive Norplant to sexually active teen-agers up to the high schools themselves.
The mayor said yesterday that principals and parents will be informed about Norplant so they can reach a consensus on whether to add the contraceptive to the array of birth-control products available at school-based clinics. "It will be a school-by-school decision," he said.
After reviewing the cases of nine students who received Norplant during a four-month pilot program at the Laurence Paquin School, the city health commissioner suggested introducing it at the other high schools that have clinics: Southern, Walbrook, Patterson, Dunbar and Southwestern. High
schools without full clinics and middle schools will not offer Norplant.
Yesterday, Dr. Peter Beilenson explained the five-year contraceptive to administrators and faculty members at Walbrook and Southwestern. He also said he plans to meet with the schools' parent-teacher organizations and possibly students.
Walbrook and Southwestern are scheduled to begin making Norplant available later this fall to students who come to their clinics for birth-control counseling. The other three high schools will be informed about the program in the next semester.
"The reception was good," Dr. Beilenson said. "There were only a few people that had concerns, and we were able to address them more than adequately."
Teen-agers already can go to private doctors and public health clinics to ask for Norplant, six match-stick-sized capsules that are inserted in an arm and slowly release a contraceptive hormone over five years. But last fall, Dr. Beilenson decided to add Norplant to the contraceptives available at Paquin, a school for students who are pregnant or have recently given birth.
The move drew national attention and some protests by local critics. Opponents denounced it as "social engineering" and said Norplant could have dire health implications.
A coalition of East Baltimore ministers continues to object that Norplant has not been adequately tested on young African-American girls.
The Rev. Gregory Perkins, the political liaison for Clergy United for the Renewal of East Baltimore, said the group will appeal to the mayor and City Council to block the availability of Norplant in the schools. Ministers plan to outline their concerns on the steps of Dunbar High School at 10 this morning.
"We're adamant in our opposition," said Mr. Perkins, pastor of St. Paul Community Baptist Church. "We are convinced that this is a bad idea, period."
Among the concerns raised by critics is that unlike condoms, Norplant provides no protection against sexually transmitted diseases.
Dr. Beilenson emphasized again yesterday that the school clinics will not promote Norplant but simply offer it as one of many birth-control options. Students are given extensive counseling over two separate sessions on the benefits and side effects before receiving Norplant.
Baltimore has one of the nation's highest teen pregnancy rates.
Mr. Schmoke said he's been pleased with the initial results of the Norplant program. "All we ever wanted to do is make the information available," he said. "To me, it's a matter of choice."