Utah school children will begin learning about AIDS next school year, based on curricula outlines accepted Friday by the State Board of Education.
The board gave preliminary approval to two levels of AIDS curricula - one that will be used in kindergarten through 12th grade as part of the state's healthy lifestyles program and a second one, with more detail, for students at risk.The board approval followed months of painstaking effort to develop classroom material that would meet community norms and also alert students to the devastating nature of the disease.
The foundation for all aspects of the curricula is emphasis on abstinence from sexual activity before marriage and fidelity afterward in a monogamous relationship.
"Schools as a community agency must help students learn to make rational decisions that will result in responsible behavior benefiting themselves and the groups in which they live," a preliminary to the draft curricula says.
The curricula emphasize refusal skills for children faced with temptations that would put them at risk and require that children already in the high-risk group be helped to stop dangerous practices.
Board member Darlene Hutchison, who heads the board subcommittee dealing with curriculum, said she is pleased that the arduous task of trying to deal with AIDS instruction appears headed for resolution. "We have provided a way for a good healthy discussion of AIDS and for teaching our kids to act responsibly and take control of their lives. After years of pussyfooting around, we will be telling our children to abstain from premarital sex. We haven't had that strong direction before."
Conservative citizen groups who have followed the evolution of the AIDS curriculum were not entirely satisfied. Joy Beech of Families Alert said the curricula adopted Friday are "still fuzzy in some areas."
During the meeting, committee members criticized premature publicity about the AIDS curricula that was on television Thursday night. An early draft of the curricula was used by Families Alert to blow aspects of the AIDS instruction out of proportion, Hutchison said.
That early draft, which was given to the family advocate group by state office personnel, was subsequently revised, Hutchison said.
Beech conceded that many of the group's concerns were dealt with in subsequent curricula drafts.
But her organization particularly takes exception to a provision that would allow teachers to respond to student questions about contraceptives with or without direct parental permission.
However, the whole process provides for parental involvement both in planning how the AIDS curricula will be implemented in the schools and whether their own children will participate. No child will be given AIDS information without prior consent.
Board member John M.R. Covey was sympathetic to the concerns raised by Beech. He suggested that teachers not answer questions about contraceptives, but refer the children to their parents or other reliable sources.
Covey also was hesitant about the at-risk curriculum, which is much more explicit than that intended for other students. Bruce Griffin of the state Office of Education said the second curriculum was developed to meet the needs of education programs the state administers in prison, juvenile custody centers and for students known to already be engaging in high-risk behavior.
Board members were concerned as to how such students would be identified. They feared that students attending more specific classes could be labeled by classmates. The committee did not specify how high-risk students would ultimately be referred, but suggested that referrals could come from parents, teachers or counselors.
The issues in question will be reworked before the final vote on the curricula next month.
The high-risk course of AIDS prevention instruction would not be taught by regular school teachers, but by district teachers especially trained and working with a educator assigned by the state Health Department.