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N.Y. Regents Consider Statewide Distribution of Condoms in

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Schools By Millicent Lawton

The New York State Board of Regents this week plans to review its aids-education guidelines and discuss whether New York should become the first state to distribute condoms throughout its public schools.

The regents will take up the policy question both as a result of a recent recommendation from a state advisory panel and because of a proposal pending in New York City to make condoms available in high schools there, the state board's chancellor, Martin C. Barell, said last week.

Mr. Barell said the meeting would be a "general discussion" of whether condoms ought to be distributed to students statewide as a deterrent to the spread of acquired immune deficiency syndrome and, if so, which agency ought to take responsibility. He said he hoped the issue would be resolved at the Feb. 20 meeting.

Mr. Barell would not predict what action the 16-member board might take, but said "several" regents felt the issue should be on the agenda.

New York was among the first states to establish guidelines for aids education in schools. Currently, 21 states mandate sex education in their schools, 33 require aids education, and 20 mandate both, according to Debra Haffner, executive di8rector of the Sex Information and Education Council of the U.S.

Whatever the regents' decision, Mr. Barell said, districts statewide would be bound by it.

Citing concern about the spread of aids among adolescents, Joseph A. Fernandez, the New York City schools chancellor, last December proposed that condoms be provided on request to students in the district's high schools. The plan was immediately attacked by some school-board members and religious leaders. (See Education Week, Dec. 12, 1990.)

The New York City board is slated to vote Feb. 27 on that proposal. Mr. Fernandez had no comment last week on the state board's consideration of a statewide policy on the issue, a spokesman for the district said.

In a report issued late last month, the New York State aids Advisory Council's Committee on Adolescents and hiv recommended that the state's public schools provide condoms "in a confidential manner to all sexually active students" and that all students receive explicit instruction in the proper use of condoms.

The panel also said that a curriculum for preventing the spread of the human immunodeficiency virus "must be mandatory for all children in all grades" and that parents should not be allowed to withdraw their children from such classes.

The state's current instructional guidelines on aids, issued by the regents in 1987, emphasizes the teaching of sexual abstinence when discussing methods of preventing transmission of the virus that causes aids.

According to the guidelines, "The Board of Regents view the use of condoms as extremely high-risk behavior." The regents advise that teachers should not support the idea that condoms "should or can be used as a way to reduce the risk of transmission of aids," adding that the known failure rate for condoms poses an "unacceptable" risk.

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