Carroll's Flap over AIDS

June 16, 1992

Nine minutes will consume hours for parents and educators in Carroll County over the next month. A nine-minute video, "Teen AIDS in Focus," is being proposed for a sex education class for Carroll ninth-graders next fall. It's not sexually graphic or obscene, but it has quickly raised the ire of at least one school board member and some parents.

Superintendent Edward Shilling and a committee of parents and teachers that reviews sex education material believe the video sends a strong message about the sexually transmitted disease. They also don't feel it violates a standing policy that the curriculum should stress to students abstinence of pre-marital sex.

Marjorie Lohnes, health education supervisor, said the film's strength is that its subjects are people who have contracted AIDS, including a teen-age girl with the disease whose infant also has it. At the end of the film, an infected teen-age male says he has learned, too late, not to confuse love with sex. The health education staff feels that provides the perfect springboard to teach about AIDS -- and abstinence, too.

Board member Cheryl McFalls, however, has been vocal in her opposition to the movie. She objects to scenes that show two men, apparently homosexuals, speaking to a class about AIDS' effects on them. She feels that aspect sends ninth-graders a mixed message that AIDS is only a homosexual disease -- a position that seems to wilt since the film also portrays non-gay patients.

The board delayed a decision on the film until next month to hold day and night hearings to solicit parental views. If opposition is heavy and the board responds to that, Ms. Lohnes said other films can be found, but maybe none that speaks as well to a teen's sense of invincibility.

Parental concern regarding educational materials, sex or otherwise, is certainly within reason. Health teachers walk a fine line in imparting sexual education without educating too much about sex. But parents must also realize that "Just Say No" is ineffective persuasion for many youths.

Carroll County has had little experience with AIDS and teen pregnancies even by the standards of its rural-suburban neighbors. Carroll's 22 cases of AIDS since 1981 -- including 15 deaths -- is less than half that of adjacent Frederick County. Its 139 teen-age births in 1989, the last year for which the Governor's Council on Adolescent Pregnancy has figures, is 1.6 percent of the state total, even though it has 2.7 percent of the state's teen-age females.

Although the county's problem isn't large, the school system is trying to address it and remain true to its constituents' values. Speaking down to youth, however, isn't likely to budge a teen conscience.

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