Washington Pledges To Implement HIV/AIDS Curriculum

Armen Hareyan's picture

Washington, D.C., public health officials havepledged to implement an HIV/AIDS curriculum in city public schools by the fall2008 school year, the Washington Post reports (Levine, WashingtonPost, 1/17).

The district State Board of Education last month voted unanimously toapprove systemwide guidelines for health and physical education that includegrade-specific sex education and information about HIV/AIDS. The vote cameafter the release of a report by the DC Appleseed Center for Law and Justice that criticized public schoolofficials for delays in implementing a comprehensive HIV/AIDS education programin the city. The center gave the district's public school system a"D" grade for its lack of progress in providing HIV/AIDS education tostudents. "In the midst of this crisis, students should be gettinginformation in school that will help prevent infection for the rest of theirlives," the report said, adding that despite several school boardresolutions for immediate action, "fewer and fewer" young people havereceived HIV/AIDS education in recent years.

The guidelines emphasize abstinence education. According to the standards,fifth grade students, for example, will be expected to know about HIV and othersexually transmitted infections and understand why abstinence is an effectivemethod of preventing pregnancy. The guidelines also say that students as earlyas the sixth grade should be taught that "people -- regardless ofbiological sex, gender, ability, sexual orientation, gender identity andculture -- have sexual feelings and the need for love, affection and physicalintimacy." The guidelines were formulated in part with input from focusgroups that included parents and educators, as well as from accredited healthstandards nationwide (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 12/17/07).


Richard Nyankori, special assistant to Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, saidthe standards are a "beginning, a means, not an end," adding that thenext major step is to decide how to teach the curriculum and what materials touse. According to Nyankori, teachers will use lessons borrowed from programsdeveloped elsewhere for the upcoming fall school year. According to the Post,the district's own public schools curriculum will be ready in late 2009, afterguides and sample lessons are prepared and tested among focus groups, such ascommunity members. Officials will begin training teachers this summer. Rhee haspromised to hire a qualified health education teacher for each public middleand high school. "We know that there's a need to have immediate HIVeducation," Nyankori said, adding "We're in a crisis."

Charter schools are supposed to develop curricula that reflect the healthstandards, although the state education board did not set a deadline forimplementation, according to the Post. "Clearly it would beto the benefit of students, for their survival really, to have thatinformation," Nona Richardson, a spokesperson for the D.C. Public Charter School Board, said.

"It took way too long to get to these standards," Walter Smith of theAppleseed Center said. The group's next reportcard will assess the schools' progress on developing a health curriculum, hesaid, adding, "We're going to be very, very critical if they haven't madesubstantial forward progress." Adam Tenner, executive director of Metro TeenAIDS who helped design the education standards,said that he wants to see future curricula incorporate HIV/AIDS education intohistory and language arts lessons as well as health or science classes."My hope is the schools will look for those opportunities," Tennersaid, adding, "The fact that [they] come so late in the game is tragic butmoot" (Washington Post, 1/17).

Reprintedwith permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, search the archives, and sign upfor email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Reportis published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. KaiserFamily Foundation.