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Group Offers Guidelines for Judging Courses on AIDS

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Responding to research indicating that the quality of AIDS education in the public schools varies widely, a national student-advocacy group has drawn up a set of criteria for evaluating instruction on the fatal disease.

In guidelines scheduled for release this week, the Boston-based National Coalition of Advocates for Students advises school administrators, teachers, parents, and child advocates that a curriculum on acquired immune deficiency syndrome should:

  • Provide information on the nature and transmission of AIDS in clear, simple, and direct language.
  • Focus on "safer sex'' practices, not just on the biomedical aspects of the disease.
  • Strongly convey the message that anyone can contract AIDS, regardless of race, sex, age, or sexual orientation.
  • Allow several class periods for the discussion of the subject so that students have sufficient time to digest the information.
  • Provide adequate training to those who will teach the curriculum.
  • Make the information clear to those with limited knowledge of the English language and to students with visual or hearing impairments or severe handicaps.
  • Be updated regularly.
  • Encourage the involvement of parents, and foster discussion among them, students, and community groups.

The curricula the coalition examined in New York City, Minnesota, and Dade County, Fla., failed to discuss the dangers of AIDS transmission from an infected female to a healthy male during intercourse, Joan McCarty First, the coalition's executive director, said in a statement. Nor were the curricula in any language other than English, she noted.

Ms. First also said AIDS classes in the three states failed "to offer students multiple opportunities to practice decisionmaking skills'' that would help them make decisions about sex and communicate them to their sexual partners.

Because half of all teen-agers are sexually active and because most will have more than one sexual partner, they are a high-risk group for contracting AIDS, the coalition warns. Therefore, it says, teaching materials for grades 6-12 should emphasize sexual abstinence and the use of condoms as ways of preventing the spread of the AIDS virus.

In addition, it says, the dangers of intravenous drug use as a means of transmission should be stressed.

The group recommends that teen-age students be given a local telephone number to call for more information, as well as the number for the national AIDS hot line.

For grades K-3, the main objective of an AIDS curriculum should be to allay children's fears about the disease and to "establish a foundation'' for a more detailed discussion of the problem in later grades, the coalition says. Schools should adopt a similar approach for grades 4 and 5, it says, but should also include discussions of sexual feelings and values for pupils in those grades.

For more information and copies of "Criteria for Evaluating an AIDS Curriculum,'' write the National Coalition of Advocates for Students, 100 Boylston St., Suite 737, Boston, Mass. 02116, or call (617) 357-8507.

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