Several parents complained to the school board last week that the county's policy of promoting sexual abstinence has been undermined by AIDS education efforts.
The debate comes one month after members ofBel Air High School's Contemporary Health class asked the school board to allow education in middle school grades about the importance ofcondoms for safe sex.
Educating students about condoms undercuts the promotion of abstinence as the only certain way to prevent the spread of the AIDS virus, said Nancy Jacobs, state representative for Concerned Women for America, a group that opposes abortion.
"We would not tell our children don't drink and drive -- but if you do, have some coffee," she told the Board of Education Monday night.
"I do not believe junior high school kids need to be told about contraceptives, said Carol Maglov, a volunteer at the Birthright Crisis Pregnancy Center in Bel Air. "They know these things. They know about sex."
Bel Air students Beth Dail and Jessica McClure told the board that a poll of parents at their school showed that only 5 agreed that AIDS education is sufficient, while 49 believed that broader efforts are needed.
But several women complained about the messages in "Secrets," an hour-long musical production on AIDS approved by the Board of Education's Curriculum Committee.
The play, produced by Kaiser Permanente Health Systems, was introduced on an optional-attendance basis last year at Edgewood High.
Gail Lambert, a member of Moms in Touch and CWA, said shewas "disgusted" by a production of the play in November at C. MiltonWright High.
The play provoked laughter when a girl pulled a phallus out of a picnic basket to show her boyfriend how to use condoms, she said.
"One student very bluntly announced he was gay," Lambertsaid. "It was another attempt to break the barrier to acceptance of being homosexual."
Christina Reynolds, acting principal at C. Milton Wright, believes that Lambert described scenes in the play out of context.
Saying that 10 percent of the general population is homosexual, she added, "These people are out there and they'd like to livetheir lives and not be persecuted."
High schools follow board policy requiring parents to sign a form giving them the opportunity to excuse their children from attending the play.
Reynolds said only two students out of 700 returned parental notices excusing them from watching "Secrets."
But board president George Lisby and member RonEaton were surprised by parents' complaints and said the board needsto re-examine its policies.
School Superintendent Ray. R. Keech said schools should stop using the rationale that because students aresexually active, they should be told that condoms provide safe sex.
But Reynolds said, "I would suggest that the board members see theplay and talk to students before they make up their minds."