New AIDS Education Garners the Support of Many, the Anger of Few

Fort Pierce, FL

As SIECUS first reported in October of 2006, officials in the St. Lucie Department of Education, health professionals, and community members came together to explore the possibility of revising the county’s sexuality education and HIV/AIDS prevention programs in public schools after learning that, among other things, St. Lucie County has the highest incidence of HIV/AIDS among blacks in any Florida county.

In May, the Executive Roundtable, the committee that formed to look into this issue, announced its recommendations for a new program entitled, “Get Real About AIDS.”1   
The program will be “a refinement” of the existing program and will continue to emphasize abstinence.2  While the program is created for high school students, it is expected that much of the information will have a “trickle down” effect to those in lower grades. 3   

The Executive Roundtable voted to adopt the changes with overwhelming support.  Only one member, the president of a Christian organization called the Body Network, dissented.4  The executive director of the Executive Roundtable noted that the program has been extensively studied for about five months.  Parents and church leaders were asked for their input along the way, and the program has “the blessing of both the state Education Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).”5

Not everyone is pleased with the revision, an associate pastor at the Covenant Tabernacle World Outreach Center is worried that the program promotes condoms too readily and that “an agenda such as this one could not encourage abstinence.” He has began a petition to prevent the program from being implemented, explaining, “When they talk with the parents, they really sugarcoat the messages, but when they get alone with the kids, it’s condom field trips.”6

Supporters of the program acknowledge that the students are taught about contraceptive methods, and they also say that the students are encouraged to go to stores with their parents to identify contraceptives. The purpose of the trip is not for young people to purchase contraceptives but to help them gain knowledge of where to find protection if they do become sexually active. Supporters of the new curriculum also note that parents are able to “opt-out” of any activity with which they are not comfortable.7
A member of the school board responded, “I believe [district policy] says we will teach abstinence, not that we will teach abstinence only.”  The administrator of the county health department said that he not only likes the program, but that he also likes the name.  “The kids are very ignorant,” he said. “They think there’ a cure, and there is no cure.”8  

The new curriculum is now being reviewed by the superintendent.  SIECUS will continue to monitor this situation.

References

  1. Allyson Bird, “Group Urges AIDS Education in St. Lucie Schools,” Palm Beach Post, 12 May 2007, accessed 24 May 2007, < http://www.palmbeachpost.com/search/content/local_news/
    epaper/2007/05/12/m1b_slsexed_0512.html
    >.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.

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