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Miss America gets an apology and a thank-you

The state's chief public health officer has written a blunt letter of apology to Miss America, criticizing Florida school officials who would not let her mention the word AIDS to pupils.

"The fact that a couple of Florida school boards felt compelled to limit the subject areas of your presentation is appalling and embarrassing to myself and my colleagues in public health," Dr. Charles Mahan wrote this week to Leanza Cornett, who has been promoting AIDS awareness during her reign as Miss America.

The controversy in Florida arose earlier this month, when Bradford County school officials told Cornett she could not mention AIDS or discuss sex when she visited three elementary schools there.

As Florida's state health officer, Mahan was outraged.

He wrote: "American kids are exposed to a blizzard of erotic, sexually oriented stimuli in our society each day _ from Calvin Klein magazine ads to MTV to afternoon soaps. In response we should be educating them to deal with such messages and their own sexuality."

Sex education is supposed to be taught in schools, Mahan said, "but in actuality the quality of such programs varies from excellent to misguided to non-existent depending on which school you visit."

The latest state figures show that AIDS cases have risen sharply over the past year, and that Florida has a greater percentage of women and black people with AIDS than the nation, and a greater percentage of cases transmitted through heterosexual contact.

In light of those facts, Florida needs to be talking openly about AIDS, Mahan said.

"Withholding knowledge in the face of a killer disease is, to me, a huge sin," Mahan wrote to Miss America.

He also thanked Cornett for her work in promoting AIDS awareness, saying she will probably save the lives of more than a few young people in Florida and America.

Mahan wrote: "You will probably never know who they are and they will probably never thank you. So I'll do it for them: Thank you Miss America!"