Parents protest use of play to teach high schoolers about AIDS

November 19, 1992|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

A play about AIDS called "Secrets" has angered a group of parents who wants county high schools to stop using it as a tool for teaching about the disease.

Bishop Thomas R. Winings of the Ellicott City Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints became upset after his daughter saw the play at Centennial High School last month. Although he had sent a letter asking that she be excluded from AIDS education, a teacher forgot to forward his slip to school administrators, principal Sylvia Pattillo said. If the schools continue to allow the play, the parents say they should be notified in advance of performances.

But Bishop Winings is more concerned that the play is sending the wrong message to youths.

"Instead of focusing on abstinence in preventing AIDS infection, 'Secrets' glorifies the condom as the end-all answer to the AIDS dilemma," he told the school board last week.

He was accompanied by about 20 supporters.

"This message comes across at very high decibel rates -- very, very high -- to the drowning out of any abstinence message," he said.

School officials say they will continue to allow the play.

"The nature of [AIDS] nationally and among younger pupils is such that we should do as much as we possibly can," said Superintendent Michael E. Hickey. "I don't agree with him there should be less AIDS education in the schools."

But principals should notify parents in advance of performances, school officials said.

Kaiser Permanente, a not-for-profit health organization, has been presenting the play in Maryland schools for the past two years at no charge. "Secrets" includes an ensemble of six actors and actresses who portray parents and students.

It will be performed at the Howard County Gateway School on Tuesday and at Oakland Mills High School on Jan. 4.

"Secrets" promotes neither abstinence nor condom use, said Joseph Glosson, director of Kaiser Permanente's education theater program.

"The information that is presented in 'Secrets' includes information on how you can get it and how you can avoid getting it," he said. "Within that information, there is an abstinence nTC message. And if a teen-ager chooses not to be abstinent and chooses to be sexually active, we present them with information on what risks they'll be getting."

Bishop Winings, who did not see the play but read a script, doesn't see it that way.

" 'Secrets' encourages sexual license by building up a false sense of security that condoms are safe," he said.

" 'Secrets' belittles the sexual relationship and treats it as a conquer-or-be-conquered game of frolic and fun," he said.

Ms. Pattillo said her school will put a notice in the PTSA newsletter informing parents about future performances. She also said the school will send letters in August and September explaining how parents can keep their children out of AIDS education programs. But she said she will continue bringing the play to her school.

"I think that it presents a total picture of the AIDS problem," she said. "It's also endorsed in the school curriculum, and it allows the students an opportunity to have discussions about AIDS."

Bishop Winings also suggested that the entire school system cut back AIDS education to once every three years.

"AIDS instruction keeps cropping up in so many different subject areas, as well as being brought in from the outside," he said. "This requires time -- an inordinate amount of time on the part of the faculty, students and administrators alike, precious time taken from critically important academic subjects."

The state board of education requires that AIDS be taught three times -- once in elementary, once in middle and once in high school. But county schools teach it more, said Pat Johnston, AIDS prevention specialist for the schools.

Students first get AIDS education in fourth grade and continue to receive it each year up to high school, where they get it in biology, ninth-grade health, U.S. Studies II, home economics and some psychology classes, she said.

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