Play about AIDS scored in Harford HARFORD COUNTY

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

A controversial play about AIDS was condemned as "racist and as fostering teen-age sexual activity in Harford County last night.

"We have enough of a battle combating the AIDS virus without having to also fight the kind of racial prejudices and stereotyping displayed in this play," the Rev. Saint George Crosse, of the St. James United Methodist Church in Jarrettsville, said to audience applause.

He said "Secrets," a sexually explicit play performed by a national troupe of young actors, mocked problems facing minority youths.

"A black girl, using jive talk, explains condoms and contraceptives to her naive white girlfriend," Mr. Crosse told the Board of Education. "This play says that sex on a first date is typical of black people."

About 15 of the 150 people at the nearly four-hour meeting spoke about the play.

"Secrets," produced by Kaiser Permanente Health Systems, has been bitterly contested by some parents since first shown to high school students last year. While the question of sexual activity was raised at that time, racism never was mentioned.

At that time, the school board unanimously ruled the play, which includes candid talk about AIDS and sexual behavior, could be performed to 11th- and 12th-graders. Members said the useful information about AIDS outweighed all other concerns. The board also ruled students must have their parents' permission to see the play; parents can view a videotape before making a decision.

Dee Polek, president of the Bel Air High PTA, said this year's survey of 229 parents who have seen the tape turned up only 29 who did not want the play performed. She said the 587 students who returned surveys supported the play and that most students and parents favored showing the play to 9th- and 10th-graders.

But not all teens support the play.

Colleen Akehurst, Bel Air High Student Council president, said she is opposed to the play because it implies most teen-agers have sex.

"I'm 16 years old and I'm a virgin," she said. "That's right, a teen-age virgin."

Six other female students, along with one male, also stood up saying they, too, are virgins. Members of the audience clapped and shouted "Amen" and "Praise God."

This year "Secrets," which has the backing of the Harford County Council of PTAs, has been performed at North Harford, Bel Air and Joppatowne highs. The play was canceled at Aberdeen High last week when some of the troupe's electronic equipment was damaged; the play will be performed in January.

"Secrets" has incorrect information about AIDS, said Nancy Jacobs, state representative of the local chapter of Concerned Women of America, a conservative political group. Also, she said the play doesn't tell students that condoms, which "Secrets" discusses, can break.

Mrs. Jacobs, who wants "Secrets" replaced with abstainance-based sexual education programs, gave school board members booklets with information about those programs.

The booklet opens with a letter from Jeffrey D. Wilson, president of the County Council, to Anne Sterling, the school board president.

"I should have thought the Board of Education would have figured out that this particular drama is not acceptable to large sections of the Harford County population," said the Dec. 10 letter.

"I regret the necessity of reminding the Board of Education that the Board is, in a large part, dependent upon the County Council as its funding entity. . . . It would be regrettable if the board's insensitivity to large parts of our county's community would have an adverse affect on the public support for education during the coming budget cycles."

School board members, who privately had expressed continued support for the play, refused to comment on the issue.

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