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Literature on AIDS Draws Fire : Education: Two Hoover High student advisers are disciplined after parents complain that the brochures, distributed last year, were inappropriate for youths.

March 18, 1993|VIKEN BERBERIAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

GLENDALE — Two Hoover High School student-club advisers have been disciplined for distributing sexually explicit AIDS awareness pamphlets to students after irate parents mounted pressure on school officials.

Marilyn Gunnell, who served as the Glendale Sunrise Rotary volunteer liaison to the school's Interact Club, a student service club, has been replaced because of her role in distributing the pamphlets. And Lee Starke, a science teacher who acts as faculty adviser to Interact, has agreed to stop talking about AIDS during club meetings for the rest of the year.

Interact distributed about 100 of the brochures at its table during AIDS Awareness Week, from Nov. 30 to Dec. 4. The club also set up a table with the pamphlets Dec. 12 outside one of the homes on the Tour of Homes holiday fund-raising event sponsored by the Hoover Parent Student Teacher Assn.

School officials first heard about the pamphlet when parent Pat Zung learned that Starke had handed one to her daughter, Emily, 13, at the home tour. Zung reported the incident to Hoover Principal Donald Duncan on Dec. 14, and when asked about it, Starke told the principal that more of the pamphlets had been distributed on campus earlier in the month.

"We feel that Mr. Starke has invaded our home and violated our daughter," the Zungs wrote in a Jan. 7 letter to the Glendale Board of Education. "He had no right to sexualize her. . . ."

Gunnell maintains that she and the club did nothing wrong.

"People in Glendale are digging Gargantuan holes in the sand to put their heads in," she said. ". . . A lot of people are now coming down with HIV and dying. This is not a moral issue. This is not a political issue. This is a health issue."

The guide, published by the Los Angeles County Health Department, describes how the human immunodeficiency virus is transmitted. Oral and anal sex are two examples that are cited, and the pamphlet goes on to give detailed explanations of sexual practices that can and cannot lead to AIDS.

Parents and district officials call the pamphlet inappropriate reading material for school-age children. "Their original premise was very noble," said Susan Kussman, president of the parents group. "But my concern is that they've set back AIDS education five years. People will now equate AIDS education with dirty pamphlets."

The county publishes at least four brochures on AIDS for and about teen-agers. The one in question, "Safer Sex: A Guide For Everyone Concerned About AIDS," is not among those targeted for youth.

"I would stick with the ones that are intended for the teen-agers," said Emily Duran, a spokeswoman for the county health department's AIDS program.

On Jan. 12, Starke, who had already signed a written statement that forbade him from discussing AIDS at the Interact Club, apologized to the parents group at Hoover for distributing the pamphlets.

"They're asking the kids to have their freedom of speech curtailed," Starke said. "But I'm not going to make an issue out of it, because I want to go on being a good educator."

Gunnell said the pamphlets were made available to students on a table that the club sponsored during the awareness week, along with a stack of other pamphlets about AIDS. There were "eight or 10 or 12 different pamphlets, all from very credible sources," she said.

Glendale school district policy requires a school administrator to approve all outside reading material intended for distribution on campus. Starke and Gunnell failed to get approval.

State law also requires that any classroom materials about sex stress abstinence. Although the pamphlets were not distributed in the classroom, the one that raised the outcry does not mention abstinence or restricting the number of sexual partners as methods of avoiding AIDS. The county's pamphlets targeted for teen-agers address these topics.

In February, parents were still incensed by the presence of Gunnell at Interact meetings, which are held on campus on Mondays. Dorothy Scharer, a parent, attacked district officials at a Feb. 16 board meeting for not removing the two advisers from their "positions of influence on our young people."

Board member Jane Whitaker said she had received more than 90 calls since mid-December.

"At times subjects that seem heated fade away," she said. "Well, this one didn't. . . . The phone calls kept coming."

The board met with Duncan and the district's legal counsel on March 2 and decided that no further action should be taken against Starke. But Duncan called Cynthia Stout, the Sunrise Rotary President, the following day and recommended that Gunnell be replaced as liaison to Interact. The Rotary board of directors approved the recommendation.

Gunnell's temporary replacement and Starke attended the Interact meeting Monday.

Club President Artin Aghanian said he believes some members may have been turned off by the dispute. He said as many as 30 students met regularly last summer to work on the AIDS awareness project. Sixteen of the club's 55 members showed up Monday.

"I and the rest of the student body are being blindfolded by our own parents and elected school officials while (people) are dying every day," he said. "I don't want to come back in 10 years to my high school reunion and find half the chairs empty because students are denied this information."

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