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State Boards Take Steps To Stem Spread of AIDS

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Slightly more than half of all state boards of education have adopted or are considering guidelines or curricular materials for teaching students about AIDS, a new survey has found.

According to preliminary results of the survey by the National Association of State Boards of Education, instructional materials on AIDS or state standards for teaching about the fatal disease were either in place or being developed in 26 states. In addition, the association found, 39 state boards have developed policies for admitting students with acquired immune deficiency syndrome to school.

"It's not clear that we're going to go any faster than the medical community can in providing us with hard data,'' said Phyllis Blaunstein, the group's executive director.

"The preliminary survey results show that boards are taking action,'' she continued, "but it also indicates that some of the more difficult issues are not being addressed.''

'Show Stoppers'

Ms. Blaunstein said she feared that some state boards and local districts were avoiding the "show stoppers'' inherent in providing AIDS education--questions such as the age at which children should begin receiving instruction, who should teach it, and whether to focus on sexual abstinence as a means of preventing transmission of the AIDS virus.

Some state boards have determined that such controversial matters are best left to local communities to decide, she added.

However, she said, given the serious threat to public health posed by the AIDS epidemic, state boards could choose to become more aggressive and act as "lightning rods'' for local communities that may be anxious to avoid some of the controversy surrounding AIDS education.

By NASBE's count, six states have taken the unusual step of requiring schools to teach about AIDS--the type of mandate that state officials say they generally try to avoid. (See Education Week, June 3, 1987.) Those states are Maryland, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and West Virginia.

In some states, such as Maryland, AIDS teaching may be included in the instruction on sexually transmitted diseases that is required under the state's mandatory sex-education program. Maryland health educators are currently considering whether to ask the state board of education to formally list AIDS as part of that required curriculum.

The survey also found that legislation to require or provide funding for AIDS education in public schools is pending in 12 states.

And, of the 24 states that have decided to make curricular materials available to their schools, 19 have already done so.

NASBE conducted the survey to determine whether its members were making use of the group's guidelines on AIDS education and policies for admitting students with the disease to school. The organization mailed its suggested guidelines to all 46 of its member school boards earlier this year.

Ms. Blaunstein said an additional, more detailed "blueprint'' to help states develop comprehensive AIDS- and health-education policies and plans was being developed.

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