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Readin’, Writin’, ’Rithmetic and Risks of AIDS

June 25, 1992

NEW YORK (AP) _ The Board of Education has resolved four years of debate over when and whether children should be taught about condoms, anal sex, cleaning needles and other subjects that might make their grandparents blush.

An AIDS curriculum for kindergarten through sixth grade in the nation’s largest school district was passed 5-0 by the board at a raucous meeting Wednesday night.

Two Board of Education members - Irene Impellizzeri and Michael Petrides - who opposed the curriculum abstained from voting, unable to bring themselves to approve a curriculum that mentions condoms to fourth graders and anal sex to sixth graders.

But the opponents won a few concessions:

-Abstinence will be emphasized as the best way to prevent AIDS.

-The reference to anal sex - mentioned as one way that the AIDS virus can be transmitted - was bumped from fifth grade to sixth grade.

-Lessons on how to use condoms and how to clean needles were eliminated.

Lessons in kindergarten through third grade concentrate on concepts like what makes a disease communicable and introduces AIDS as a disease that - unlike a cold - is hard to catch.

Supporters of the curriculum say the only way to reduce AIDS among teen- agers is to start teaching kids about prevention before they become sexually active.

″New York City has just 3 percent of the nation’s 13- to 21-year-olds. But we have 20 percent of the AIDS cases in that group,″ said Jim Vlasto, a spokesman for Schools Chancellor Joseph Fernandez. ″And 10 percent of all HIV-infected babies born in New York City have teen-age mothers. The numbers are just startling.

″Opponents will say the curriculum is too explicit,″ he added. ″But we are just keeping up with the information as it comes to us. The issues are much bigger than people’s views.″

In another effort to stem the spread of AIDS, condoms were made available on demand in high schools here last year.

The 120-page AIDS curriculum is not a workbook that students will have access to, but a guide for teachers. It has been in the works since 1988, one year after AIDS education was mandated in every school in the state.

Vlasto says opposition to the plan was led by the Catholic Church. But Joanne Gough of Staten Island, a non-Catholic founder of Parents for the Restoration of Values in Education, says her group opposes the curriculum on moral and practical grounds, not religious.

On the discussion of condoms in the fourth grade, she said: ″I do not feel that this is age appropriate. ... I am not denying there are children who are sexually active at that age. But those children need special help. Don’t go in the name of addressing their problems and violate the childhood and innocence and latency period of everybody else.″

Mrs. Gough said that mentioning anal sex in the sixth grade ″puts ideas in their head.″ She said the curriculum talks about ″protected sex″ without stressing condom failure rates. And she is angry that the school system does not plan to study whether AIDS rates go down after the curriculum is used. She said abstinence should be taught as the sole way to avoid AIDS.

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