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Poor AIDS Eduction in schools

May 9, 1999

I am a single mother who recently found out my ex-boyfriend's ex-girlfriend is HIV+. (And he knew her before he knew me). I got tested and was extremely relieved to find out I was negative. This frightening experience, however, galvanized me into discussing the whole HIV issue with my teenage children. I was shocked and mortified to hear their responses. My 15 year old daughter said "They cured that, didn't they?" and my 18 year old son said "They have drugs for that now, don't they?" They weren't the least bit concerned about it!

I corrected them on all of this in a hurry - NO, they don't have a cure yet, and yes, they have drugs, BUT they are devastating to the body, cause a whole plethora of intolerable side effects, and are generally destructive if taken over a long period of time. The virus eventually develps resistance to the medications and people are left waiting and praying for the next drug to come through the pipeline to buy them some more time. No long-term studies are available for these drugs since they are so new - we really don't know what the long-term effects are. I described the lipidotrypsy condition in horrifying detail (THAT got their attention) and presented an entirely different picture to them than they previously had.

My question is this: Who (other than parents, of course) is responsible for education these kids about this life-threatening disease? Who is allowing schools to pass on this horrible misinformation? Does anyone monitor what goes on in sex-ed classes? Is this even discussed? This is really pathetic. We live in an nice, middle class suburban community (like thousands of others across America) and all the kids think HIV is cured and there's nothing to worry about. This is truly SCARY. They think like we used to think about STDs when I was younger - if you get Gonnorhea (sp?), it's not the end of the world. There's Penicillin. Well there's no Penicillin for this. Not yet, anyway. I'm afraid they hear all the "feel good" announcements on TV ("new AIDS vaccine trial underway), etc. and that's all they know.

Can I help in any way? Who can I complain to about this (other than my own kids' school, obviously)? Is there anyone on Capitol Hill that is responsible for HIV education in schools that I can complain to?

If we don't reach these kids AT LEAST by this age, I'm afraid we're going to have a tremendous problem in the very near future.

Thank you for your wonderful work on this site....God Bless you.

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

Thank you for your question.

A lot of parents complain about how little their children are learning in school about HIV, STDs, safer sex, and sexual reproduction. But there are things that you can do to improve the quality of education for your children, not only regarding HIV/AIDS, but also for anything and everything that your children learn in school.

1) Go to a school board meeting. School board meetings are the forum where you can have an input as to what your children are learning. It is surprising how many parents do not go to school board meetings, despite the fact that this is where they have the greatest influence on their children's education. Very often, it is the vocal minority who decides what your children learn, rather than the silent majority.

2) Ask your children's teachers for a copy of the curriculum. If you see mistakes or misinformation, tell the teacher and/or the principal. If incorrect information is being given to the children, the school needs to know about it.

3) Contact your state Department of Education, and talk to them about your concerns about what your children are (and are not) learning in your local schools.

4) Do not depend on the schools alone to educate your children about HIV, STDs, safer sex, sexual reproduction, etc. It is also your responsibility to teach your children this information as well.

You would be very surprised how few parents are actively involved in their children's education. If you do not like what your children are learning in school, you have the opportunity and ability to change it.

If you have any further questions, please feel free to call the Centers for Disease Control at 1.800.232.4636 (Nationwide).

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