The Los Angeles school board voted Monday to begin teaching about acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) in all schools and to let physicians decide, on a case-by-case basis, whether children with AIDS should be permitted to attend class.
City Councilman Joel Wachs and a series of health experts told the board that education is the best--and only--means of stopping the AIDS epidemic.
"We need to communicate to (students) how serious this disease is," said school board member Roberta Weintraub, who, with Jackie Goldberg, sponsored the two AIDS-related proposals. "AIDS is not like other sexually transmitted diseases. It kills," Weintraub said.
Board members also noted that many teen-agers are inclined to experiment with sex and drugs, the two potentially common means of AIDS transmission.
Information for Students
Under the board plan, approved unanimously, the school staff will prepare "factual materials" that will "explain to students how to be safe and how to avoid acquiring AIDS and other diseases which can be sexually or intravenously transmitted."
Goldberg added, "We are not talking about a sex manual."
She said teachers will provide students with information on how the disease can be spread, and as one health official commented, "that will be the greatest deterrent to sex that has ever been invented."
School officials said that a teacher from every school will be responsible for dispensing information about AIDS. In addition, the material will be incorporated into health courses in the seventh and 10th grades.
"We already teach about sexually transmitted diseases--how they spread and how they can be avoided," said Ruth Rich, health education specialist for the Los Angeles school district. "We will prepare information for teachers and teaching strategies. We need to clear up the misinformation about AIDS," she said.
The materials prepared by the school staff are to be completed by January and then must be approved by the board.
The school board also sought to avoid the controversy that has arisen in New York and other cities over whether to enroll students with AIDS. However, the policy agreed upon leaves the issue somewhat unclear.
The new policy requires a school physician and the physician of a child with AIDS to confer before the child could be admitted to school. If he or she is sickly and obviously suffering from infections, the child could be barred from school and educated at home.
If he shows no signs of illness--and one county doctor noted that most AIDS-infected patients show no symptoms--the child could enroll in school.
Board members insisted, however, that they would not yield to parental pressure to bar children with AIDS, as was done in New York City.
"This is a health issue, not a political issue," said Goldberg.
On Friday, state health and education officials refused to set a policy for California's public schools and turned the matter back to local school boards. Since much about AIDS is still not known, state officials simply urged educators to "exercise caution."
"Even though there is overwhelming consensus among public health authorities that the risk of transmission via casual person-to-person contact . . . is essentially non-existent, the risk at this time is not quantifiable and we cannot say unequivocally that the risk is zero," said state health Director Kenneth W. Kizer.
School officials in Los Angeles say they have not had a case of a child with AIDS seeking to enter school.