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AIDS Guide for Schools Stresses Moral Values : Bennett Says Youths Can Avoid Risky Behavior; Failure of Condoms Emphasized, Not Protection

October 07, 1987|MARLENE CIMONS | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Education Secretary William J. Bennett, saying that "we cannot shy away from associating moral values with behavior," released an AIDS guide for parents and teachers Tuesday that he said "takes morality seriously, as it should."

A total of 500,000 copies of the book will be printed and sent to the principals of every secondary and elementary school in the country, as well as to every board of education and parental group, he said.

"Here's the heart of it: Most cases of AIDS result from behavior that can be avoided--and when it comes to the young, nothing more powerfully influences their behavior than their values, their internally held beliefs and convictions," Bennett said at a press conference. "The behavior of our nation's teen-agers is the product of the values they hold, not just the facts they have learned."

Emphasis Assailed

Critics immediately attacked the book for what they said was its overly moral tone, saying that the emphasis should have been placed on science and health.

"Nobody can object to putting out a moral message, but it's not enough given the health crisis we're confronting," said Rep. Ted Weiss (D-N.Y.), who has been monitoring AIDS education efforts as chairman of the House Government Operations subcommittee on intergovernmental relations and human resources. "It just really misses the boat."

The book, called "AIDS and the Education of Our Children," says decisions about AIDS education should be made locally by parents and school districts but urges that programs "teach about sex in a way that emphasizes the reasons for abstinence, restraint and responsibility. . . . AIDS education (as part of sex education in general) should uphold monogamy in marriage as desirable and honorable."

The booklet criticizes sex education programs that "fail to provide a message of personal responsibility" and those "in which the teacher makes a concerted effort not to make moral judgments about sexual activity."

The book--in sharp contrast to the surgeon general's AIDS report released last year--does not urge parents and teachers to recommend that teen-agers use condoms to reduce the risk of AIDS transmission, if they are sexually active. Rather, it stresses that "condoms can and do fail" and that "teen-agers who know about condoms often fail to use them." Promoting the use of condoms, the book says, "can suggest to teen-agers that adults expect them to engage in sexual intercourse. This danger must be borne in mind in any discussion."

Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, in his report to the public, urged those who practice high-risk behavior to "protect your partner by always using a rubber--condom--(from start to finish) during sexual intercourse, vagina or rectum."

Thinking Held Altered

Bennett said in his press conference Tuesday that Koop has since altered his thinking on condoms and that Health and Human Services Secretary Otis R. Bowen recently assured Bennett that Koop intends to revise his report.

However, James Brown, a spokesman for the Public Health Service, said Koop is awaiting the results of a UCLA study on the efficacy of condoms in reducing transmission of the AIDS virus and would make no decisions before the study is released.

On the issue of school-age children with AIDS, the book says that "a school district should take into consideration bona fide medical considerations about the likelihood of the risk of infection to other children." Such medical considerations "may also justify a school district placing limitations on specific activities, such as sports, in which children participate. Similarly, decisions on placement should address whether the child will conduct himself in a manner that will not endanger other children."

The Public Health Service has said repeatedly that school-age children with AIDS pose no risk to other children in the course of typical classroom activities.

Bennett, asked about the apparent conflict, said: "I don't see the contradiction," adding that "for most children, we are talking about an unrestricted setting, but there are some cases where restrictions should be made." He did not elaborate.

The Public Health Service has said some restrictions may be needed in the case of small children who do not have control of their bodily functions or those with neurological impairments.

AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, destroys the body's immune system, leaving it powerless against certain cancers and otherwise rare infections. It is commonly transmitted through sexual intercourse, through the sharing of unsterilized hypodermic needles and from woman to fetus during pregnancy.

As of Sept. 28, a total of 42,354 Americans had contracted AIDS, of whom 24,412 had died.

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