AIDS is a dirty rotten disease, an indiscriminate killer that doesn't fight by any rules. It robs its victims of health, reason, and finally, of life.
Those who want to fight back should not be concerned with observing the rules of the Marquis of Queensbury. The battle to keep Utah adolescents from joining the macabre roll call demands every weapon at the disposal of parents and educators.At this point, education is not only the best, but the sole defense. Education should hit hard and to the core of the issues. This is not the time for pussy-footing around words and concepts if our children are to understand the nature of the enemy and how they can protect themselves.
Parents have the first responsibility for teaching their children where danger lies and in equipping them to make wise choices. The simple truth is, however, that many parents did not meet the challenge of sex education even before AIDS appeared to complicate the issue.
In 1986, some 2,370 Utah teenagers became pregnant out of wedlock, often creating problems of significant proportions for themselves, their offspring, their families and society. Thousands more in the teenage group contracted venereal diseases of lesser consequences than AIDS, but debilitating and a threat to their future health.
Some of these adolescents had been taught at home and at school and still failed to act responsibly. Others lacked knowledge and/or the coping skills to say "no" to temptation and avoid their problems.
Obviously, teaching in the past has fallen short. Ignorance of the hazards of sex outside the safety of a mutually monogamous marriage has caused untold heartaches and social expense. Ignorance of AIDS has the potential for multiplying problems that already exist.
It would be nice to suppose that all parents will change their approach to the sex instruction of their children in light of that threat, but I suspect many youths will continue to get their information outside the walls of their homes.
That information may or may not be correct and it may or may not be accompanied by the ethical underpinnings that most parents want, and which were built into the AIDS educational program approved by the State School Board.
I applaud the school board for its final product, which provides a solid base of responsible personal behavior as the first line of defense against AIDS and other venereal diseases.
I am concerned that the issue of whether teachers may respond to unsolicited questions from students about contraceptives remains unresolved.
The board has asked for an Attorney General's opinion to determine if teachers may respond directly, briefly and accurately to such questions without a parent's prior consent.
Parents must sign a consent form for their children to receive the materials contained in the AIDS curricula, and the question of whether more specific permission is required in these instances is still hazy in my mind.
If permission has been given for the overall program, should a teacher need further permission to answer a question?
A Deseret News/KSL poll of Utah high school graduates this spring showed that an overwhelming 97 percent favored sex education in schools. I can't help wondering if that reflects a feeling among adolescents that the information they are receiving at home is not adequate.
In the same poll, 62 percent of the students said they favored allowing teenagers to obtain contraceptives without notifying parents. Contraceptive, obviously, is a word they already know.
A youngster who poses a question to a teacher has had, in all likelihood, ample opportunity to pose the same question to his/her parents. A teacher's failure to respond to a question begs the mission of education in general and may send the child into the hallway for information that isn't correct.
The AIDS guidelines the state board accepted are responsible and well-reasoned.
Let's not hamstring our teachers by surrounding a good AIDS education program with too many restrictive "thou shalts" and "thou shalt nots."