Abject Lessons

Public Schools Accused of Skimping on HIV Education

Some blame the negligence of HIV education on a scores-driven climate in the schools. "The educational system feels tests are more important than health," says Robert Foxx, a 22-year-old program coordinator for Youth Organizers United. Foxx suggested the schools offer required lab classes in which students are tested on their knowledge about AIDS and sexual health. Others called for a Regents' test in health.

Both the city and advocates seem to agree on the most daunting obstacle to the mounting campaign: the kind of red-hot political opposition that flared up the last time this issue got aired. As Platt politely reminded angry advocates at the forum, "you need agreement from the community" to actually change anything about sex education in the schools.

Gina Quattrochi, executive director of a nonprofit organization that provides housing and services to homeless people with AIDS, and the parent of two students in city public schools, is less circumspect about the forces she thinks threaten to derail AIDS education efforts. "Last time when we were fighting about the Rainbow Curriculum, we all backed off this issue because of the terrible attack from the right wing," says Quattrochi, recalling the angry protests that painted Fernandez and his supporters as purveyors of immorality. "We were scared."

This time, advocates seem braced for a rough fight in order to have the HIV education curriculum updated and to have existing mandates enforced. "We have a good shot this time," says Rebecca Mandell, policy associate at the New York AIDS Coalition. The challenge, she says, is making the goals of HIV education clear to its opponents. "We need to talk to parents and PTAs and explain why it's so important that kids get this information," says Mandell. "We need to try to make parents understand that we're trying to protect their kids, not encouraging them to have sex."

Sharon Lerner is a senior fellow at the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School University's Milano Graduate School.

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