Board approves sex-ed program

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 11, 2002


RESERVE – A group of high school students enter a classroom. They are asked to shake at least three people’s hands. In turn, those three classmates shake three more hands. Before the end of class, every hand has been touched.

Now, what if one of individuals had HIV or AIDS? And what if the handshakes represented something more, like unprotected sex?

Pre-med student and West St. John High School graduate Emile J. Pierre said drawing a comparison between handshakes and unprotected sex could get the message out – unprotected sex carries big risks.

It is one method Pierre said he will use to teach local youth about HIV and AIDS.

Pierre, a third-year medical student at St. Louis University School of Medicine, asked the St. John the Baptist Parish School Board Thursday to give him the opportunity to talk to students about the risks associated with sex. Pierre proposed an informal lecture in high school classrooms that includes discussions on the history of HIV/AIDS, the diagnosis of HIV/AIDs, treatment of HIV/AIDS and HIV/AIDS prevention.

After some discussion, the board voted in favor of the presentation. Board members stipulated that parental permission must be given for students to participate in the discussion.

“The school system needs to know what it is recommending,” District 6 member Charles Watkins said. Watkins asked that more details be given to parents, administrators and the School Board before acceptance of the program.

A copy of a letter sent by Pierre to Director of Education Brenda Butler and a rough outline of the lecture were provided at Thursday’s meeting. Still, some expressed concern.

“As a parent, I want to know how he is going to be teaching,” a concerned resident told the board. “I don’t want my child being taught something I don’t agree with.”

Pierre assured the board and parents that, as with all sexual health programs, abstinence would be stressed.

“Abstinence is absolutely the first thing we will talk about. But abstinence is not how we got these numbers,” Pierre said, referring to the number of HIV/AIDS cases in the state and in the nation. “The best way to decrease mortality is to prevent the spread.”

So far, high school principals and educators have been supportive of the program. A few have already shown interest in having the program brought to their schools.

“There are a lot more kids dying of AIDS then terrorist attacks,” Board member Russ Wise, district 8, said. “And I like the idea of sending someone who went to school here coming back as a pre-med student and a role model.”

Board members also believe students are more likely to identify with Pierre because of his age.

“When you talk about sex in public everyone starts cringing,” board member Leroy Mitchell said. “I approve and I support this presentation. I think he is a good role model.”

Pierre will be working with School System Superintendent Michael Coburn to set up lectures in area schools. He has also been asked to provide school administrators with information about HIV and AIDS.