8 MONTROSE VOICE / FEBRUARY 14, 1986
Few Cities Make it Part of the Curriculum
Teens Won't Learn About AIDS in School
By Laura Fraser
Pacific News Service
Special to the Montrose Voice
The AIDS epidemic won't be stemmed,
experts say, without widespread education about how to prevent the disease. But
only a few high schools nationwide—in
those cities where the death toll is already
high—have started teaching about AIDS
"High school students need to know
risks," says Dr. Marcus Conant, director
of the National AIDS Foundation. "The
seriousness of the disease is such that you
need to begin education as soon as possible."
Yet in Houston, for example, there is no
curriculum about AIDS, no teaching materials prepared by the school district, and
no teacher in-service training programs
about the disease planned.
"AIDS is not spelled out as a 'must
teach,'" says Rosalind Young, spokesperson for the Houston public school district.
She says that since there has been "no
public outcry to have AIDS education," it
simply has not been taught.
School districts in many other cities
have taken similar positions to date.
An exception is Los Angeles, where the
school board has made AIDS education a
requirement for all students beyond elementary school. AIDS units will be written
into health education and social science
curricula, and all teachers will attend special AIDS training sessions.
And in New York City, over 100,000 public school teachers and staff attended a
citywide training session last October,
while Schools Chancellor Nathan Qui-
nones has asked that lesson plans be
drawn up about AIDS for students in
But even in San Francisco, where AIDS-
related deaths are the highest per capita of
any major city, there is no official directive to teach about AIDS. The school district "doesn't do directives on any
subject," says Joan Haskin, health program specialist for the city's public
schools, though she believes AIDS will
become "another part of our education
about sexually transmitted diseases."
Some San Francisco schools are moving
ahead with AIDS education on their own,
and the results point up the need among
teenagers who, as a group, are among the
most sexually active, and the least
informed about AIDS.
After a lesson on AIDS at George
Washington High School, Anna, a 10th
grader, wrote that she previously had
thought "AIDS was only in San Francisco" and that "AIDS is easier to catch
than it really is."
The lesson had not changed Anna's
"AIDS is not spelled
out as a 'must
spokesperson for the
Houston public school
district. She says that
since there has been
"no public outcry to
education," it simply
has not been taught.
deepest feelings about AIDS, however.
That feeling, which she and two thirds of
her class wrote on their worksheets, is
Instructor Donald Leach said he first
began including units about AIDS in his
family life education classes last year
because his students had such "strong
phobias" about the disease. Many thought
they could get AIDS by sitting next to a
gay person on a bus. Some thought it could
be contracted from mosquito bites. And
some had no idea of how to protect themselves by using "safe sex" procedures.
Leach also said many of his students
thought the disease was confined to homosexual men, a belief that can lead to what
he calls "homophobia." A few students
wrote that the city should "quarantine
Castro," San Francisco's predominantly
gay district, or "get rid of fags."
Such misconceptions can be traced to
fears and prejudices of parents and peers,
says Leach. "The media tend to sensationalize things, and rumors start. A teacher
can give students the whole picture."
Gradually, Leach's George Washington
class came to see that picture. On
questionnaires handed out to the class.
one true/ false statement read, "If an
AIDS victim spit on you or sneezed on you
or his/her tears touched you, you could get
the AIDS virus." After much conversation,
one girl answered correctly. "False," she
said. "It takes a whole lot of body fluid."
The class then discussed the particulars
about which means of sharing bodily
fluids —including oral and anal
Leach admits that the discussion is
explicit, but says, "We start out in this
class saying there are no such things as
dirty words. If you teach about sex, you
have to teach it all." So far, no parents
have complained, according to Leach.
George Washington is not the only San
Francisco school to teach about AIDS.
Last fall, 300 of the city's teachers
gathered for a voluntary session on AIDS
with the intent of passing on the
information to their students. Health
professionals answered questions
students most often ask about the disease.
Then Marcia (Juanken bush, with San
Francisco's AIDS Health Project,
provided a suggested classrooom
curriculum on AIDS. She advised not only
a full discussion of the health matters
surrounding AIDS, but talk about civil
rights issues it has raised.
Quackenbush says such information is
crucial for teenagers because they are "at
an age where they're beginning to experiment with sex and drugs, and are setting
The subject is being broached in classrooms of at least one San Francisco pri-
vate Catholic school as well. Cathy
Pickerel, a teacher at Presentation High
School, says she teaches about AIDS in
theology classes on "Christian Sexuality"
and "Death and Dying," in part to help
her students understand "responsibility
involved in sexual activity."
But worries grow that in other places
across the country, AIDS education is not
keeping pace with the spread of the disease. Says Paul Boneberg, National Coordinator of Mobilization Against AIDS in
San Francisco, "There's no national effort
to educate teenagers, and that's going to
cost lives. Where's the PTA?"
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