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AIDS booklet criticized as inappropriate

In a second attempt to clean up wording in some of the AIDS education workbooks for elementary pupils, a School Board member has asked administrators to review the books as well as the entire AIDS education curriculum used in Hernando schools.

Board member Susan Cooper made her request to Superintendent Harold Winkler during last week's School Board meeting. Winkler assured her that arrangements had been made to form a committee to conduct the review, as Cooper had suggested.

Cooper first called attention last year to what she perceived as a problem with the elementary-level AIDS education material. She thought all of the revisions she sought had been made, but later found that fourth-grade books still contain what she believes to be inappropriate wording.

"Somewhere along the line things got botched up," Cooper said. "And there continues to be information these children should not be subjected to."

The original wording Cooper objected to in fourth- and fifth-grade books was removed, she said, but a phrase that she asked be added to the fifth-grade workbooks ended up in some of the fourth-grade workbooks as well, she said. The wording she requested _ "Just say no to sex" _ should have been inserted only in the fifth-grade books, she said.

"By no means did I want a reference to sex put in the fourth-grade manual," Cooper said. "I only intended it for the fifth-graders."

The wording that was removed made reference to the fact that AIDS can be transmitted through intimate sexual contact and the exchange of body fluids.

Cooper said her addition is the only reference to teaching the idea of abstinence in the elementary-level AIDS education curriculum.

Cooper was alerted to the mistake by a Brooksville Elementary School fourth-grade teacher. Cooper said the teacher refused to teach the AIDS curriculum until it was corrected.

"I feel it is time to completely take a look at the entire package here," Cooper said. "Why should our fourth- and fifth-graders be guinea pigs until the material is done properly?

"If this teacher feels uncomfortable, it makes me wonder how many others are, too, and how many others have the wrong information."

Superintendent Winkler said it has not been determined who will serve on the committee. He said teachers, parents, a board member and members of the community will be considered.

"I'm all in favor of taking a look at this curriculum," Winkler said. "We have a policy: If anyone questions information, a committee is established to review it and it comes back before the board.

"There may be things we want to change (in the AIDS curriculum)," he said.

The AIDS curriculum, formulated during the 1990-91 school year, received input from a health advisory board made up of school officials and community members. The curriculum was approved by the School Board.

However, Cooper said the reference to body fluids was not in the information she approved, and she is uncertain as to when it was added.

Florida schools are required by the state Department of Education to teach AIDS awareness.

Cooper also is dissatisfied with other components in the AIDS curriculum, which she discovered as a result of scrutinizing the workbooks, she said.

She disapproved of a Parrott Middle School student production performed for fifth-graders districtwide this school year. The play made reference to a sixth-grade student who regretted having sex, she said. The student character contracted AIDS.

"This is totally inappropriate," Cooper said. "We should not be suggesting to our students that sixth-graders are having sex."

Cooper said she was told by the district's health education coordinator that the play was approved by the School Board. Yet, Cooper said, the play was not included in information she received.

Cooper also questions a section of the curriculum that states AIDS cannot be contracted through saliva. She believes there is not enough evidence to support that statement.

Another complaint of Cooper's is the time it takes for parents to receive a copy of the elementary workbooks, if they request one, she said. Parents are invited to review the material before it is presented to pupils, and some parents told her they did not receive the information until after the material was discussed in school.

"In general, I'm very displeased with how this curriculum was put together and the school district's approach to teaching AIDS and sex education in the schools," Cooper said. "If the schools are going to take on the responsibility of teaching students about sex and the consequences of it, they had better take it one step further.

"This committee should come up with ways to teach abstinence until marriage. If they're taking the responsibility away from parents, they should include valuing education as well."