Parents pan play on sex education Some balk at scene on use of condoms

November 15, 1992|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,Staff Writer

Claiming it condones premarital sex and homosexuality, parents have protested a sex-education play to be performed next week at North Harford High School.

"In this play, we are saying that as long as you have protected sex, there is no problem," said Rod Knauer, one of 30 parents who watched a videotape of the play at the school last Wednesday night.

"This is a sham," he said, adding that he would forbid his 12th-grade son to see the play.

"Secrets," produced by Kaiser Permanente Health Systems and performed by a troupe of young actors, was first shown at Edgewood High School in 1990 to 11th- and 12th-graders. Among the play's subjects are condoms, homosexuality, bisexuality and premarital and oral sex.

School board member Anne Ober, who gave a presentation on AIDS before the preview last Wednesday, said "Secrets" should also be shown to ninth- and 10th-graders.

"The kids who need this information are going to get it too late if we wait until they are juniors and seniors," she said.

Mrs. Ober said she understood how some parents could find parts of "Secrets" difficult to watch.

But, she added, "the tragedy is that the kids of these parents probably don't need 'Secrets.' Their parents are talking to them at home. But you can see how many parents are here."

But one parent angrily snapped: "No one said, in this room, that they don't preach abstinence at home. But we are allowing the schools to teach safe sex. This play mentions abstinence one time but goes on to . . . glorify heterosexual and homosexual sex."

Last year, the school board decided only students in 11th and 12th grades could see the hour-long play, making about 400 North Harford students eligible.

The board also decided parents would have an opportunity to see a videotape of "Secrets" and would have to sign permission slips before their children would be allowed to see the play.

While opponents decried the play, other parents said they considered it an appropriate way to counter the ignorance that can lead to teen pregnancy and AIDS.

Beverly Kitchin expressed anger that her three children -- in seventh, ninth and 10th grades -- couldn't see the play yet. "I teach abstinence at home, but that does not mean kids internalize those values," she said.

"I decided before I came tonight that I wanted my child to see the play," said Betsy Galbreath.

She also said she would have let stand a scene with a banana demonstrating correct condom use. Last year, the school board ruled that portion would not be shown.

But some parents wanted the entire scene on condoms removed. This year, condoms are no longer shown in the play in Harford, at the request of the school system, said Joseph A. Glosson, director of educational theater programs for Kaiser Permanente. The dialogue, which argues the merits of latex over lambskin condoms, remains, Mr. Glosson said.

Mr. Glosson, who works with 14 school systems in this region, said only Harford County has dictated what can and cannot be shown in the play.

Some of the opposition results from misinterpretation, he said. In one scene, for example, an actress dumps a bag of condoms onto a shawl or scarf, and some parents apparently thought the actress and actor would have sex, he said. "That implication never crossed our mind," he added.

"Secrets" is shown in school systems throughout the country, and only 1 percent to 2 percent of parents have complained, Mr. Glosson said.

One opponent, Bob Hooper, a former county councilman, sat for 4 1/2 hours at last Monday night's school board meeting so that he could speak during the public participation segment.

"Students are getting the message that everyone has premarital sex or that all men have homosexual experiences, and that is not right," he said.

Mr. Hooper said he was particularly upset by a scene showing a father handing his son a condom before the son leaves the house for a date. "I can't stop my son from having premarital sex but I am not going to say it is OK, and I am not going to hand him a condom," Mr. Hooper said.

Echoing other parents at the North Harford meeting, Mr. Hooper said schools could find alternatives to educate children about AIDS. He praised John Carroll School, a private independent Catholic school in Bel Air, for its treatment of the subject.

John Carroll this year invited Molly Kelly, a widowed mother of eight, to speak to its students about AIDS. Mrs. Kelly is a member of Pennsylvanians for Human Life in Philadelphia, an anti-abortion organization, and of the sexual education committee of the Philadelphia school board.

"What she did is build the students up, told them it was OK not to have sex. Why can't the public schools do the same thing?" Mr. Hooper asked.

Mrs. Ober, the school board member, said she would welcome hearing alternative methods of teaching students about AIDS.

"Secrets" was shown most recently at Bel Air High School, where Principal William Ekey said about 450 of the school's 570 juniors and seniors saw the play Oct. 26.

"The message I saw is that if you engage in risky behavior, and that includes sexual activity -- so-called 'safe' or 'unsafe' -- or IV drug use, you stand a risk of getting AIDS," Mr. Ekey said. "And if you do, you will die."

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