Washington, D.C., Public Health Officials Pledge To Implement HIV/AIDS Curriculum by Fall 2008
Washington, D.C., public health officials have pledged to implement an HIV/AIDS curriculum in city public schools by the fall 2008 school year, the Washington Post reports (Levine, Washington Post, 1/17).
The district State Board of Education last month voted unanimously to approve systemwide guidelines for health and physical education that include grade-specific sex education and information about HIV/AIDS. The vote came after the release of a report by the DC Appleseed Center for Law and Justice that criticized public school officials for delays in implementing a comprehensive HIV/AIDS education program in the city. The center gave the district's public school system a "D" grade for its lack of progress in providing HIV/AIDS education to students. "In the midst of this crisis, students should be getting information in school that will help prevent infection for the rest of their lives," the report said, adding that despite several school board resolutions for immediate action, "fewer and fewer" young people have received HIV/AIDS education in recent years.
The guidelines emphasize abstinence education. According to the standards, fifth grade students, for example, will be expected to know about HIV and other sexually transmitted infections and understand why abstinence is an effective method of preventing pregnancy. The guidelines also say that students as early as the sixth grade should be taught that "people -- regardless of biological sex, gender, ability, sexual orientation, gender identity and culture -- have sexual feelings and the need for love, affection and physical intimacy." The guidelines were formulated in part with input from focus groups that included parents and educators, as well as from accredited health standards nationwide (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 12/17/07).
Richard Nyankori, special assistant to Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, said the standards are a "beginning, a means, not an end," adding that the next major step is to decide how to teach the curriculum and what materials to use. According to Nyankori, teachers will use lessons borrowed from programs developed elsewhere for the upcoming fall school year. According to the Post, the district's own public schools curriculum will be ready in late 2009, after guides and sample lessons are prepared and tested among focus groups, such as community members. Officials will begin training teachers this summer. Rhee has promised to hire a qualified health education teacher for each public middle and high school. "We know that there's a need to have immediate HIV education," Nyankori said, adding "We're in a crisis."
Charter schools are supposed to develop curricula that reflect the health standards, although the state education board did not set a deadline for implementation, according to the Post. "Clearly it would be to the benefit of students, for their survival really, to have that information," Nona Richardson, a spokesperson for the D.C. Public Charter School Board, said.
"It took way too long to get to these standards," Walter Smith of the Appleseed Center said. The group's next report card will assess the schools' progress on developing a health curriculum, he said, adding, "We're going to be very, very critical if they haven't made substantial forward progress." Adam Tenner, executive director of Metro TeenAIDS who helped design the education standards, said that he wants to see future curricula incorporate HIV/AIDS education into history and language arts lessons as well as health or science classes. "My hope is the schools will look for those opportunities," Tenner said, adding, "The fact that [they] come so late in the game is tragic but moot" (Washington Post, 1/17).