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Should schools teach HIV/AIDS prevention? | Federal Way parent forum is Feb. 16

The teaching of HIV/AIDS prevention and awareness will be the topic of a parents’ forum on Wednesday hosted by the Federal Way School District.

At the forum, parents can preview the curriculum for teaching about HIV/AIDS. Parents are allowed to opt out their child if they disapprove of the curriculum.

Under a state law passed in 1988, each school district must provide HIV/AIDS curriculum for students in fifth through twelfth grades; the law also allows parents to decide whether their children partake in the curriculum.

Two types of HIV/AIDS curricula are used by Federal Way schools. For fifth-graders, the district uses The Great Body Shop, a health curriculum produced by the Children’s Health Market. In sixth through twelfth grades, the district uses a state-produced curriculum called KNOW.

District spokeswoman Diane Turner said these preview meetings are held once in the fall and once in the spring. Typically, she said, 20 to 25 parents will attend in fall, and between 10-15 in spring. The forum will take place at 7 p.m. at district headquarters, 31405 18th Ave. South.

The number of students in the district who opt out is low. Turner said that six students opted out this fall, and only one student opted out last year.

Turner said that HIV/AIDS instruction is part of broader health education programs in the schools.

The state’s KNOW curriculum is available for review on the state Department of Health website. Cynthia Morrison, a state STD education coordinator, reviews HIV/AIDS curriculum for scientific and medical accuracy. She said that not every district is required to use KNOW, but that any outside curriculum must meet its standards.

The newest challenge to teaching students about HIV/AIDS, Morrison said, is to ensure that there’s no “message fatigue:” that the seriousness of HIV/AIDS is not lost on students just because of recent medical innovations that allow HIV patients to live longer.

“Is our message clear enough so that young people in particular are not getting the message that this does concern them?” she said. “They’re pretty bulletproof at that age.”

Morrison said that reaching children through social media is one possible avenue to refresh the message that HIV/AIDS is still out there and is still dangerous.

“The message itself probably is not going to change much,” she said. “How we deliver the message has to keep pace, otherwise they won’t take us seriously.”

No curriculum has come across her desk that has not met state standards, Morrison said. However, once in a while a bill will be brought up in the Legislature that seeks to change how HIV/AIDS is taught in schools.

A bill introduced in the Legislature this session would reverse the method by which students receive HIV/AIDS education. House Bill 1602, which purports to restore “parents’ rights,” would require parental permission for classes that teach HIV/AIDS prevention and awareness. (The bill would also ban minors from receiving treatment for sexually transmitted diseases unless they had their parents’ permission.)

The bill, introduced on Jan. 26, awaits a hearing in the House judiciary committee.

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