On October 16 a new AIDS education Programme for use in junior and senior high schools was unveiled by the Manitoba Department of Education. The programme is being presented as a health course, rather than a part of the family-life or sex education curriculum. The new Minister of Education, Roland Penner stated that the programme stresses abstinence, rather than promoting “safe sex.”

The programme immediately came under fire by “gay rights activists.” Glenn Murray, a “health educator” in the Village Clinic, said the programme doesn’t go far enough. “The curriculum doesn’t really deal with personal decision making and risk reduction, like the right way to put on a condom,” Murray stated.

While Penner’s approach appear’s encouraging in that it stresses abstinence, encourages parents to be partners in AIDS education, and allows for opting out by both students and schools, it is nonetheless feared that the programme is just the thin edge of the wedge. By stressing abstinence, many parents will welcome the programme. However, once it is accepted and in the schools, the programme would become wide open. Mr. Penner has also stated that school divisions would be free to alter the programme and include information about safe sex. So much for an emphasis on abstinence.

Elizabeth Jones, a trustee in Winnipeg’s largest school division, has already stated her intention to work to make the programme mandatory. Jones also believes ‘safe sex’ instruction should be compulsory. Commenting to a reporter, Jones added, “…going the abstinence route? They tried for years with pregnancy and it hasn’t been much of a deterrent. I don’t think it’s going to deter kids from sex in the case of AIDS.”

If this is the attitude of administrators and educators then the new programme is sure to be a disaster and our children will again pay the price. Contrary to Jones’ view, abstinence has never been offered to students as a desirable “lifestyle.” Quite the contrary. The problem of teenage pregnancy was encouraged and exacerbated by the widely promoted notion that ‘safe sex’ meant using contraceptives.

Further criticism was leveled at the programe by Tory health critic, Len Derkach. Derkach  insisted that to be effective the programme should present AIDS syndrome primarily transmitted by homosexuals. As would be expected, Chris Vogel of “Gays for Equality” took issue with Mr. Derkach, parroting the folly of Elizabeth Jones with his comment that the principal means of preventing AIDS was to teach children ‘safe sex’ practices.