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INFORMATIONAL LETTER NO.: 80

 

POLICY CODE: IHAMC

 

 

TO:                  Superintendents

 

FROM:            Susan A. Gendron, Commissioner of Education, and

                        Dr. Dora Mills, Director of Bureau of Health

 

DATE:             February 6, 2004

 

RE:                  HIV Education in Maine Middle, Junior High and High Schools

                                                                                                                 

 

This letter is to congratulate Maine middle, junior high and high schools for the accomplishments that have been made in reaching our youth with HIV prevention education and sexual health skills.  With support from the Centers for Disease Control  (CDC), the Maine Department of Education is recognized as having a very good reputation for implementing effective HIV education. 

 

Along with this good news comes recently released information about an apparent increase of 41% in new HIV infections in Maine (total of 55 diagnosed in 2003).  In addition, it has come to our attention that school administrators need to remind staff that they should not share a student’s or staff’s HIV status information without written permission.  The consent to share this information should specify who would have access to this information.  If school personnel have questions or concerns, they should contact the Bureau of Health, Office of HIV/STD Program at 287-3747.  That is the only agency where identifying information can be shared without permission. 

 

Staff from all but 36 (37%) of middle and junior high schools and 22 (17%) of all schools having a publicly funded high school have voluntarily attended HIV/STD & pregnancy prevention curricula trainings over the past decade.  These curricula are science based and proven to improve students’ sexual health behaviors.  Maine is one of the few states to have not mandated HIV education, however, we have made the following gains:

 

Ø      Maine high school students reported the second highest level (94%) of receiving HIV education in the country (2001 Youth Risk Behavior Data). 

Ø      Maine middle level and high schools report the second highest level (77%) of HIV related policies in the country (School Health Education Profile 2002).

Ø      Maine middle level and high school health teachers report the highest level of teaching about condom effectiveness [88%] and correct condom use [66%] compared to other states (School Health Education profile 2002).

 

Maine students are making more responsible sexual choices and are making very good progress in meeting Maine’s YR 2010 Adolescent Health Goals.  The following indicate concrete results using 2003 Youth Risk Behavior data unless noted:

 

ü      Increased the rate of sexual abstinence at the high school level by nine percentage points to 57%.  Target is 60%.

ü      Increased condom use to 58% (62% for males) of those students sexually active in the past three months.  Met target.

ü      Increased female birth control pill use to 46% (continually the highest rate in the country) among sexually active females.  No target set.

ü      Decreased female adolescent pregnancy rate to 19.8 per 1,000 (2001 data) resulting in fourth lowest rate in country.  Target is 16.3.

ü      Increase to 87% the percent of students making responsible sexual decisions as defined by CDC.  Met target.

 

In order to continue to emphasize the importance of sexual health, Maine will need to address the following concerning reduction in our progress.  Both middle level schools and high school students report a reduction in receiving HIV education.  At the high school level it went from 94% to 88% in 2003, at the middle level from 82% to 73%.  Maine HIV and sexually transmitted infection rates have increased at an alarming rate in 2003.  With more people living longer with HIV infection, there is a greater potential for increased transmission and a greater need for HIV risk reduction skills.  The general perception is that HIV is not a problem in Maine, yet it is believed that approximately 1/3 of new infections may have occurred among those in their late teens or early twenties.

 

HIV education, within mandated comprehensive education, can assist schools in providing a researched, skill based curriculum, in covering multiple mandated health components, addressing the Maine Learning Results in health education and in providing models of local assessment.

 

I encourage you to review your HIV related policies that should, by state law, provide confidentiality to HIV infected students and staff.  The need for annual universal precautions training for all staff becomes more important as Hepatitis infection is an increasing risk from blood spills.  The Maine School Health Manual provides guidance on these HIV related health issues.  The Department provides technical assistance, as well as no cost curriculum training.  Please contact Joni Foster, HIV Education Coordinator, at 624-6687 or joni.foster@maine.gov  if you have any requests or questions.

 

The response of Maine’s schools has been one of the strongest in the nation.  Together we can strengthen our efforts to provide sexual health messages and education.  Already we have made a substantial difference in young people’s knowledge, skills and behaviors. Thank you for your continuing attention to this important health issue.