The Lynn School Committee has agreed to let a community health center that works in the schools provide birth control, including emergency contraception, to middle and high school students without parental approval, a move that has drawn sharp reaction.
The committee last week voted unanimously to adopt the measure with some modifications aimed at boosting parental involvement. The plan was brought forward by the Lynn Community Health Center, which provides varying levels of clinical care in 15 of the city’s public schools.
Lynn had the state’s sixth-highest teen birth rate in 2016, behind Lawrence, Chelsea, Holyoke, New Bedford, and Southbridge, according to the state’s public health department.
During the last school year, 57 teenagers became pregnant, according to the center. Seven students became pregnant for the second time.
Committee members said the new policy should help reduce those numbers. Under state law, medical personnel can provide family planning advice and contraceptives to child-bearing teens without prior parental approval.
“It’s not going to be Lynn Public Schools doing anything,’’ said committee member Michael A. Satterwhite. “It’s the medical professional who will be doing the work.”
Satterwhite said he pushed to modify the Lynn plan so parents can submit health information about their children, which should allow the health center to steer children toward their family doctor.
Similar contraceptive programs operate in a number of school systems, including Boston, Cambridge, Chelsea, Everett, Lawrence, Peabody, Salem, and Somerville.
Before the change, the health center sent students to pharmacies to pick up condoms and prescribed birth control medications, including the Plan B pill. But of the 16 students at Lynn Classical High School who had been referred to Plan B, a so-called morning after medication, half never picked it up. The clinic urged 43 students to learn about family planning from a medical professional; eight did not show up.
For students at Lynn Vocational Technical Institute, Plan B was prescribed to 16 students, four of whom failed to follow through. A total of 19 students were recommended for Depo-Provera, an injectable contraceptive; five did not keep their appointments.
About 60 percent of the district’s 17,000 students receive medical care from the school-based health clinic, Satterwhite said.
School committee member Jared C. Nicholson said the new policy could generate conversations between parents and children about safe sex, a goal he supports.
“It’s totally understandable for some parents who feel like this could be concerning to them. It’s a sensitive topic,’’ he said. “But the end result is for students to make safe, healthy decisions for themselves. As well as for the parents. We want the parents involved.”
Michael King, the director of community alliances at the Massachusetts Family Institute, said he does not think free birth control will decrease the number of teenage pregnancies.
“We feel like doing this onsite is indirectly making it even more of an acceptable behavior to have sex as a teenager that can lead to many of these problems that young girls end up facing,” King said.
Carolina Trujillo, whose son attends the Lynn schools, said free contraception will help break the cycle of poverty.
“We cannot continue to deny the fact that kids, with or without their parents’ consent or knowledge, are sexually active. Let’s be real about it and make sure they are safe,” Trujillo wrote in an opinion piece published in The Daily Item.
The clinic expects to begin distributing birth control in February, said Julie Chan, a pediatric nurse practitioner at Lynn Vocational Tech Institute’s health center. Chan said distributing birth control will lower the number of pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.
“A lot of times, kids who can’t get access to health care or birth control need it the most,” Chan said.