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Sobol Overturns Resolution Requiring Abstinence Instruction

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State Commissioner of Education Thomas Sobol of New York last week overturned a New York City Board of Education resolution requiring that instruction related to AIDS prevention in the city's schools emphasize abstinence.

Mr. Sobol declared the resolution null and void because, he said, the school board had ignored a state regulation requiring the involvement of the board's AIDS-advisory council in the adoption and implementation of an AIDS curriculum.

In his ruling, the commissioner also said the resolution conflicts with legally established principles of academic freedom by intruding "impermissibly upon the teacher's latitude to teach the curriculum in the most effective manner.''

The commissioner's decision was seen as delivering a small victory to Joseph A. Fernandez on the eve of his removal as chancellor of the New York City Public Schools. Mr. Fernandez had opposed the resolution; the four board members who voted last week not to renew his contract had been its backers. (See related article, this page.)

The resolution, adopted by the board in May, required the chancellor to insure that all instruction relating to AIDS prevention devote "substantially more time and attention to abstinence than to other methods of prevention.'' In addition, all instruction would have to stress that abstinence is the most effective protection against the disease. (See Education Week, June 3, 1992.)

The resolution also required any outside organization or individual taking part in the district's AIDS-education program to sign an agreement to comply with the rules.

Mr. Sobol asserted that, to insure their full compliance, teachers would have had to keep track of the number of times they mentioned, or the amount of time they devoted to, "abstinence'' as opposed to "safe sex.''

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