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Parents’ Group Says AIDS Play Gives Wrong Message

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A popular play about AIDS prevention that has been touring public high schools has come under fire from a group of parents on the Palos Verdes Peninsula who contend it unduly promotes the use of condoms to prevent the spread of the deadly disease.

The group, Concerned Parents and Residents, argues that the 45-minute play “Secrets” emphasizes the use of condoms while failing to adequately promote abstinence as the only sure-fire prevention method.

“We feel it is lopsided,” said Sharon Stucki, a mother of six and member of the 200-member parents group. “We don’t feel it is an honest play.”

The play, sponsored by the Kaiser Permanente health care organization, centers around a high school couple. The young man, Eddie, has the HIV virus from sharing needles with a group of soccer buddies. Even before he learns he has caught the virus, his girlfriend, Monica, has chosen not to have sex with him.

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Kaiser spokesman Allan Mann said the organization believes the play clearly promotes abstinence. Moreover, actors, who participate in discussions with students after performances, are instructed to emphasize abstinence, he said.

But Mann added that educating students about the use of condoms is an important part of the play.

“Abstinence is a very important message, but at the same time we have to be realistic about this and realize many young people are sexually active,” Mann said.

Judy Bales, a member of Concerned Parents and Residents, says group members “don’t have our heads in the sand. We are not advocating we get into this puritanical kind of education of the kids.”

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However, the group ultimately hopes to persuade Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District officials to revamp the district’s sex education curriculum to emphasize traditional moral values. The organization began forming about two months ago after a handful of mothers attended a sex-education lecture sponsored by the district and thought the speaker was too jocular in her approach. The speaker also told several mothers privately that she does not believe in abstinence, according to Stucki.

“We really feel the problem here, as well as in lots of other places, is we need a new approach to the whole sex and health education curriculum,” said Bales, a mother of three. “We feel there is a total lack of morals in the education program.”

In April, the group asked school board members not to allow “Secrets” to be performed at the district’s three high schools. However, the board did not take a stand on the issue and left the decision to administrators at each campus.

On April 30, the play was performed at Rolling Hills High School after a videotape of it was viewed by several parents, students and educators, Principal Mike Escalante said. The play is scheduled to be performed at Miraleste High School in June.

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At Palos Verdes High School, Principal Kelly Johnson said he decided against showing the play this school year because of the campus’ crowded year-end schedule and because he wants to see the play before making a decision. Johnson said he plans to see the play Wednesday night at the Norris Theater in Rolling Hills Estates. Kaiser has rented the theater for the evening so the play can be performed as a public service for the community.

Kaiser’s Mann said the play has been performed 171 times for more than 80,000 high school students in Southern California. The response has been overwhelmingly favorable, he said.

In late February, the play was shown at Banning High School in Wilmington and drew enthusiastic applause from students. At Rolling Hills High School, teachers took a random survey of students after the play was performed and received numerous positive responses, Escalante said.

“One of the things they particularly liked about it is that it didn’t talk down to them,” he said.

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Lora Dodell, president of the Parents Teachers Students Assn. at Rolling Hills High School, said she has seen the play performed twice and watched it on videotape twice. She said that she interpreted the play as strongly urging students to abstain from sex and drugs.

“I thought it was outstanding,” Dodell said, adding that she would like her seventh-grade daughter to see the play.

Members of Concerned Parents and Residents, who viewed the play on videotape, said they believe the play sometimes presents the subject of AIDS prevention in too frivolous a manner and, in at least one scene, a parent is depicted as insensitive to his child’s concerns about sex.

Some members of the group said they also took exception to a scene in which Monica uses a banana to show Eddie how to properly put on a condom--a scene that Kaiser allows schools to delete if they find it objectionable. Escalante said he decided to excise the scene before the play was performed at Rolling Hills.

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Most members of Concerned Parents and Residents said they believe the play focuses entirely too much on the use of condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS and erroneously gives children the impression that there is such a thing as “safe sex.”

Dr. William Fawell, a retired Kaiser physician who lives in Rancho Palos Verdes, said he believes “Secrets” strongly implies that premarital sex is acceptable and that the use of condoms ensures protection from AIDS.

“That to me was the stronger message rather than 100% abstinence,” Fawell said.


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