Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Schools in Quandary on AIDS, Condoms

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Schools in Quandary on AIDS, Condoms

Article excerpt

SHOULD condoms be distributed in schools?

The issue is spurring debate among educators, administrators, and parents from New York to California as the nation seeks ways to stop the spread of AIDS.

At least 31 states mandate that schools provide some sort of AIDS education. Several big-city districts - including New York and Philadelphia - include making condoms available as part of prevention programs. San Francisco is studying the idea.

Now Los Angeles, the nation's second-largest school district, is considering expanding its AIDS curriculum and allowing the distribution of condoms in all high schools.

The move has strong support among AIDS activists, health-care workers, and others. Some religious and parent groups, though, sternly oppose making condoms available and question the educational emphasis in the classroom.

"This is going to be a huge issue," says Susan Carpenter-McMillan of the Right to Life League, a lobbying group.

Nationwide, the incidence of AIDS cases among adolescents is low but has been growing rapidly. The Centers for Disease Control reports that teenagers make up less than 1 percent of all AIDS cases, though the number grew by 40 percent last year.

Disturbed by these statistics, educators, state lawmakers, and others have been grappling with what role schools should play in helping prevent the disease. The California Legislature, for instance, recently passed a bill that requires junior and senior high school students to receive instruction in the prevention of AIDS.

Supporters say stopping the disease from becoming a teenage epidemic is essential. But opponents worry about how to present sensitive sexual matters in the classroom. They wanted a provision requiring that such instruction not be offered without parental consent. In the final version, parents who object can pull their students out of class, but no "prior consent" is required.

A few urban districts believe even more than classroom learning is needed: thus the emerging debate over condoms. A task force of the US Conference of Mayors recently endorsed making condoms available in schools. …

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