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DISTRICT TO REPLACE AIDS EDUCATION GROUP : RESPONSE TO PUPIL'S QUESTION ABOUT SEX ACT PROMPTED REMOVAL.

Byline: Karen Maeshiro Daily News Staff Writer

High school officials are looking for a new AIDS education group to replace one that sparked controversy by providing detailed prevention techniques in response to a student's question.

The decision to replace the Catalyst Foundation as the district's AIDS education provider came Wednesday night after a 1-1/2-hour debate before the Antelope Valley Union School District board.

The more than 20 speakers were split on the board's recent decision banning Catalyst from local campuses after a speaker explained methods of preventing the transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, through oral sex.

The argument pitted those who considered Catalyst's program as filled with vital, life-saving information against those who said the group relayed inaccurate methods that could prove deadly.

``Condoms have been hailed as the messiah in safe-sex gospel, but it's incapable of delivering salvation. Research shows condoms just don't work,'' said Cheryl Rodriguez, a parent who supports the ban. ``They need to be educated, but they need to be told the truth.''

Another parent, Julie Fuller, who has children nearing high school age, said the Catalyst Foundation provides youths with facts that help them make the best decisions.

``I have listened to the presentation. It's moving, and it could be life-changing,'' Fuller said. ``It's a safety issue, it's beyond drugs or homosexuality. Homosexuality can't be taught. Hatred, fear and bigotry can. Just what lessons is your ruling teaching?''

The Catalyst Foundation for AIDS Awareness and Care was barred in January from speaking to students after the board objected to some of the group's information, such as using a dental dam or plastic sandwich wrap to protect against sexually transmitted diseases during oral sex.

Those details were offered in response to a Quartz Hill High School student's question, not as part of the foundation's formal presentation, officials said.

Trustee Bill Olenick said he favored the return of Catalyst, but board members Kevin Carney and Sue Stokka maintained their opposition.

Stokka at one point unraveled a piece of plastic wrap at the meeting and asked the audience, ``You want to tell me this piece of Saran Wrap is safe?''

``We are doing the children a disservice if we tell them condoms will protect them from sexually transmitted diseases,'' Carney said.

The Catalyst's AIDS education program emphasizes abstinence from sex and drugs as among the only foolproof ways to avoid contacting the virus that causes AIDS, supporters say. But some teens are sexually active and need information about how to reduce the risk of HIV infection, they add.

High school students also weighed in with their views in support of both sides.

``I feel that all students who so desire should hear current authoritative information on a disease that may threaten their lives,'' said Quartz Hill High senior class president Michael Ambriz.

``The school board seems to think teen sex and pregnancy are not issues in the district, but we see the reality of it. You need to pull the wool from your eyes and see that teens are putting themselves in danger by having unprotected sex and using needles for drugs.''

Other students testified about friends who are HIV-positive.

``If he had the information that the Catalyst Foundation gives, he could be living a normal life. Because of ignorance, he will die,'' Quartz Hill High student Jason Mangan said about a friend. ``I pray you will allow the foundation to continue so we can battle HIV with a weapon - knowledge.''

Some students questioned the information provided by Catalyst about the effectiveness of condoms.

``That's like telling kids they can engage in dangerous activity. They are being misled,'' said Littlerock High student Josh Kornoff. ``Teens can exhibit self-control. More condoms isn't the answer. Self-control will be.''

The discussion became so heated at times that Trustee Steve Landaker suggested the board prohibit clapping, cheering and booing during public discussion.

The Catalyst group was barred from speaking on campus after the school board discussed parent complaints in a private meeting. No vote was taken, but Superintendent Robert Girolamo said a majority favored blocking Catalyst from the schools.

The Catalyst group, which provides medical and support services for people with AIDS and HIV, had been doing presentations at high schools since 1992.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 3, 1996
Words:705
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