The Augusta School Board should be applauded for voting to provide reproductive health services to junior high and high school students starting next year, and for doing it the right way.

Working with Maine Family Planning, the schools will offer birth control prescriptions, condoms, pregnancy tests and other services, with parental consent.

Before the matter came before the board, the school correctly engaged the community. The school’s student services leadership team conducted focus groups with 30 parents and community members, 10 faculty members, 17 high school students and 18 junior high students.

The concerns raised in that process — including financial barriers and counseling for students — will be addressed as the plan is implemented, and an informational meeting for parents will be held before the start of next school year.

That kind of openness with the community will help the program succeed. Above all, parents need to trust the school to deal sensitively with what can be a divisive issue.

The board ultimately voted 7-1 in favor of the plan, and research backs it up.

The United States has the highest rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections among developed countries. Maine’s teen pregnancy rate is higher than the national average, and Augusta’s rate — 67.9 out of every 1,000 teens from 2006 to 2010 — ranks among the highest in the state.

A study by Washington University is just the most recent to show that access to free birth control reduces unplanned teen pregnancy and abortion rates.

A study through the same group, called the Contraceptive Choice Project, showed that the distribution of free contraception does not increase sexual activity, a common argument against school reproductive health programs.

At the same time, research shows a correlation between abstinence-only education in schools and higher teenage pregnancy and birth rates. The less teens know about sex, the more likely they are to get pregnant or get an infection.

After the Augusta schools program is in place, the board should revisit the issue of parental consent.

It is an emotional topic, no doubt. But teenagers have privacy rights, too, as well as the right to proven reproductive health methods.

School-based programs — which, again, are proven to reduce pregnancy and STI rates, and to have no impact on sexual promiscuity — are most valuable to teenagers who encounter objections at home.

When the time comes, Augusta schools can tackle that issue, too, in the same open way they’ve handled this one so far.

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