Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations
AIDS Education in Pennsylvania Ranges From the Basics to ‘Explicit’
Pennsylvania public schools are required by law to develop HIV/AIDS
education programs that include information about "the nature of the diseases, treatments and cures, methods of transmission and how infection can be prevented," but individual school districts determine the details of the program, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports. The regulations, known as Chapter 4 of the state's academic standards, allow districts to "omit instruction in the elementary grades on transmission of disease through sexual activity" and leave the amount of detail in upper grade classes to the district's discretion. Some groups say that explicit detail is "unnecessary" and may even "encourage" sexual activity among teenagers. "Teaching kids how to prevent AIDS is a valid goal. But talking too explicitly about sex is opening the door ... to promote sexual activity, setting kids up to be molested and breaking down their sense of modesty," Wendy Wright, a spokesperson for Concerned Women for America, said. Denise Chappell, assistant superintendent for the Seneca Valley school district, said the board there had heard "some concern" from parents about the use of words like "oral and anal sex," but that the board decided to pursue "vigilant and comprehensive" HIV/AIDS education despite those objections. In the Penn Hills school district, AIDS education is introduced in the third grade when the students study the immune system. In the upper grades, the Penn Hills curriculum requires "explicit" detail about HIV transmission. State law allows parents to remove their child from AIDS classes, but few "opt out," Chappell said. The state also mandates that
abstinence be "emphasized" as the "only completely reliable means of avoiding" HIV transmission, but does not prohibit the discussion of "safer sex" methods, such as condoms. Nationally, the "abstinence-only" message is taught in 35% of schools, according to a survey by the Alan Guttmacher Institute. However, the majority of schools include information on contraceptives, because teens may "want and need" that information, the
Post-Gazette reports. According to a Kaiser Family Foundationsurvey, half of the 1,512 12- to 17-year-old teens surveyed want to "know more" about HIV/AIDS and its transmission. The survey also found that 20% of teens mistakenly believe there is a cure for AIDS and a third did not know HIV can be transmitted through unprotected oral sex. The Post-Gazette reports that with as many as half of all new HIV infections occurring in people under the age of 25, schools have decided that "ignorance can be dangerous" (Winnick, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 3/28).
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