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School Officials Back Plan to Make Condoms Available

TIMES EDUCATION WRITER

A recommendation by an AIDS task force that the Los Angeles Unified School District make condoms available on high school campuses received the support of district administrators Thursday at a hearing before the school board.

Board members will vote later this year on whether to expand the district’s AIDS education and prevention programs.

The district officials rejected a task force proposal that junior high students be allowed to obtain condoms, but supported several other recommendations--including an increase in the number of school-based health clinics and more time spent teaching children about AIDS.

The suggestions were lauded by some parents, medical experts and gay activists, but drew fire from several others, who complained that the proposals focus too little on abstinence and usurp the authority of parents to teach their children about sex.

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The 78-member task force was appointed by the board a year ago to help the district revamp its AIDS education policies, then was expanded to include about 50 parents and Christian fundamentalists who complained that the group was ignoring their views.

Board member Jeff Horton, who chaired Thursday’s hearing as head of the district’s education reform committee, vowed not to let dissent derail an AIDS education expansion plan.

“This is about the health of our young people,” he said. “No personal agenda, no community agenda, no religious agenda should get in the way of the schools doing all they can to safeguard young people’s health.”

The district now includes lessons on AIDS prevention and treatment as part of its health curriculum for seventh- and 10th-grade students, and offers a pilot AIDS education program--funded by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control--in some fifth- and sixth-grade classes.

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Condoms--and other birth control devices--are available to students who have parental consent at the district’s three privately funded school-based health clinics, at Jordan, Los Angeles and San Fernando high schools.

The task force has recommended that every high school have such a clinic to dispense condoms and information on AIDS testing, prevention and treatment. Several other urban school districts have condom-distribution programs, including New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco. Los Angeles administrators have recommended that the district study those programs before implementing its own.

Specific guidelines governing distribution of condoms at all high schools have not been worked out and school officials said parents would be asked to help develop the policy.

Horton said he was not surprised that the staff expressed support for giving condoms to teen-age students. “On the one hand, everybody’s a little taken aback at the thought of passing out condoms,” he said, “but there’s absolute unanimity that using a condom is safer than not using one.

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“We are not encouraging students to be sexually active,” Horton said. “We’re saying: ‘We think it’s best that you wait . . . that you resist the pressure of society and your peers.’ But for those we can’t persuade to postpone sexual activity, we want them to do it in the safest way possible.”


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