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Condom Plan for High Schools Sparks Rancor

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

A controversial proposal to distribute condoms at high schools received a rancorous hearing Wednesday evening as supporters and opponents turned out in droves to trade shouts over the issue at a tense public meeting in Van Nuys.

“The blue-ribbon task force report is a fraud,” said Woodland Hills parent Joey Haige, 50. “What they recommend will actually spread the disease. The report was controlled by people from the homosexual community.”

“No gay bashing! No gay bashing!” responded Jarrow Rogovin, 41, a Los Angeles businessman. “Liar!”

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The exchange between Haige and Rogovin was one of several that drew cheers and hoots from the rowdy, sign-waving crowd of 600 people who packed the auditorium at Birmingham High School. With Los Angeles Unified School District officials looking on, parents vehemently opposed to the proposal and gay-rights activists who support it tried to shout each other down as representatives from each side stepped to the microphone to speak.

The condom-distribution proposal is the most controversial in a wide-ranging report on AIDS education and prevention submitted to the district last summer. The blue-ribbon task force appointed by the district had initially recommended that condoms be made available at junior highs as well as high schools, but district officials rejected the idea.

Wednesday’s community meeting was the last of five scheduled on the issue and the only one to be held in the San Fernando Valley. Although billed as information sessions for parents, the hearings have mostly turned into bitter confrontations between fundamentalist parents and representatives of militant gay organizations such as ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power.

Wednesday was no different.

Dozens of parents booed and held up signs when Donald Wilsey, 39, an ACT UP activist, expressed support for the proposal.

“My concern is with the teens who are sexually active,” Wilsey said. “They should be given every means available” to practice safer sex.

When Marta Collier, 32, a Panorama City mother of two, spoke in favor of the recommendation, opposing parents jeered as some students in the crowd and others cheered her on.

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“For the health and the very lives of my daughters, I support condom distribution in schools,” said Collier as banners and signs--including one stating “Recall The Board”--were hoisted. “I demand condom distribution in schools.”

Most of the parents present opposed the recommendation on the grounds that making condoms available would encourage sexual activity among teen-agers and usurp the role of parents in teaching their children moral values.

“It is not the place of the schools to undermine the values we have instilled in our children,” said Wendell Burton, 44, a Van Nuys father of two. “The only truly safe sex is found in a monogamous, heterosexual, long-lasting relationship.”

The school board will most likely vote on the proposal next month. Two of the seven board members, including East Valley board member Roberta Weintraub, have already registered their support for condom distribution on campuses, but the others have said they wish to gauge parent reaction before making a decision.

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