Pupils at a city middle school will be able to get birth control pills and patches at their student health center after the local school board approved the proposal Wednesday evening.
The plan, offered by city health officials, makes King Middle School the first middle school in Maine to make a full range of contraception available to students in grades 6 through 8, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.
There are no national figures on how many middle schools, where most students range in age from 11 to 13, provide such services.
“It's very rare that middle schools do this,” said Divya Mohan, a spokeswoman for the National Assembly on School-Based Health Care.
The Portland School Committee voted 7-2 for the measure.
Chairman John Coyne voted against it, saying he felt providing the birth control was a parental responsibility. The other no vote came from Ben Meiklejohn, who said the consent form does not clearly define the services being offered.
Opponents cited religious and health objections.
Diane Miller said she felt the plan was against religion and against God. Another opponent, Peter Doyle, said he felt it violated the rights of parents and puts students at risk of cancer because of hormones in the pill.
A supporter, Richard Verrier, said it's not enough to depend on parents to protect their children because there may be students who can't discuss things with their parents.
Condoms have been available since 2000 to King students who have parental permission to be treated at its student health center.
About one-fourth of student health centers that serve at least one grade of adolescents 11 and older dispense some form of contraception, said Mohan, whose Washington-based organization represents more than 1,700 school-based centers nationwide.
At King Middle School, birth control prescriptions will be given after a student undergoes a physical exam by a physician or nurse practitioner, said Lisa Belanger, who oversees Portland's student health centers.
Students treated at the centers must first get written parental permission, but under state law such treatment is confidential, and students decide for themselves whether to tell their parents about the services they receive.
Five of the 134 students who visited King's health center during the 2006-07 school year reported having sexual intercourse, said Amanda Rowe, lead nurse in Portland's school health centers.
A high school in Topeka, Kan., stopped providing free condoms to students Wednesday after district officials learned of the month-old program. The district has a policy against providing contraceptives.