600 turn out to see school AIDS film

July 08, 1992|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff Writer

WESTMINSTER -- A crowd that would rival the local screening of a hit movie packed the Westminster High School auditorium last night.

The reviews came in early when one parent who got up to criticize the film for not emphasizing sexual abstinence asked those who thought the film unsuitable for students to stand up.

Almost everyone stood.

The second showing of the controversial "Teen AIDS in Focus" last night drew almost 600 people. Like the approximately 150 who attended the first screening, they were asked to fill out surveys about whether the school board should allow the film to be shown to ninth-grade health classes.

A quick glance through the pile of surveys showed several "yes" votes, but there were more "no's," said Harry Fogle, director of special education, who helped collect ballots.

The documentary featured real teens with AIDS, including one boy with sunken eyes and blotchy skin who says, "This summer, I'm pretty sure, is going to be my last summer, unless they find a cure."

One parent, Michael Simmons, gave qualified approval of the film.

"Having seen the film and felt the power of its message, I believe we need to have other materials equally powerful [about abstinence]," Mr. Simmons said.

The Board of Education votes July 15. The meeting begins at 9 a.m. in the Carroll County Career and Technology Center on Washington Road south of Westminster.

School officials have stressed that the speaker and teachers would use "Teen AIDS in Focus" as a springboard to discuss abstinence, the system's policy.

One of the last images in the film is a young man with AIDS who says his big mistake was confusing sex with love.

"The last statement in the video is a good beginning for a discussion on abstinence," said Marjorie Lohnes, supervisor of home economics and health for the schools. "Safe sex, as you probably know, is a misnomer. [But] because it is such a commonly used term, there is great value in discussing the term."

Mrs. Lohnes said the film is powerful for its presentation of real teens with AIDS, many of whom have since died. It includes many who say they got the disease through heterosexual contact.

"Our teachers believe in the abstinence policy," said Mrs. Lohnes. She said the same applies to speakers from the Carroll County Health Department, who will be showing the tape to ninth-graders.

The Health Department's AIDS case manager, Linda Stromberg, defended the tape.

Stromberg, a nurse and a mother, said students know abstinence is the only sure way to avoid infection.

"Despite our best efforts, our children don't always do what we tell them," she said. "Think back, honestly, to when you were a teen."

The Health Department submitted the tape for the school board's approval, as any agency must do for materials it will bring into classes.

The videotape was recommended by the Family Life Committee, which screens materials for the board. It includes parents, teachers, clergy and one student.

The board's written policy is to stress abstinence, but to provide information for students who choose to be sexually active.

A few teens showed up for the screening.

"We're very angry right now with the opinions we're hearing," said Rebecca Duex, a 1991 graduate of Westminster High School who was the student representative on the board the past year.

She said the parents in the room were being closed-minded.

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