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D.C. Public Schools Praised For HIV/AIDS Awareness, Charter Schools Criticized

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D.C. Appleseed's report assesses both how the city and how schools are doing in monitoring and addressing HIV/AIDS.
Andrew Katz-Moses
D.C. Appleseed's report assesses both how the city and how schools are doing in monitoring and addressing HIV/AIDS.

D.C. Appleseed, a public policy organization, released its eighth annual "HIV/AIDS in the Nation's Capital Report Card" on Wednesday. The report praised D.C.'s traditional public schools for their efforts to bolster sexual health education even as it criticized public charter schools for their lack of progress.

D.C.'s traditional public schools received a  B+, according to the report. Walter Smith, who heads D.C. Appleseed, says the traditional school system is making steady progress with a web-based education program, mandatory professional development and HIV-screening programs.

Charter schools, though, did not fare as well, receiving a grade of C. "We're trying to say, 'Listen, something needs to be done here,'" says Smith.

During a press conference, Mayor Vincent Gray said that it's challenging to implement anything across charter schools because they are autonomous, promoting Smith to respond.

"It has to happen. And the law requires it to happen. And the work that we have done so far shows us at least that the kind of effective, systematic education of young people in charter schools with regard to HIV/AIDS isn't happening," he said.

Smith says a few charter schools are doing a good job, but all charter schools need to do the same. Smith says part of the problem is that the Office of the State Superintendent, or OSSE, which oversees public education in D.C., is not providing any guidance to deal with what he calls the "glaring deficiency of HIV/AIDS education in charter schools." OSSE received a C grade.

Just a few years ago, D.C. had a higher rate of HIV and AIDS than parts of West Africa. Michael Karfen with the Department of Health says it's important that young people are educated about the disease because adolescents in D.C. have such high rates of sexually transmitted diseases.

"On average it's as high as six percent, many times the national average — and we've even seen it as high as 20 percent. And most don't know because they don't have symptoms. Having an untreated STD can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease and potential infertility. Also it increases the risk of getting HIV, by as much as five times," he says.

Kharfen says the Department of Health has expanded its HIV screenings, trained educators and distributed half-a-million condoms in schools.

Adam Tenner with the nonprofit Metro Teen AIDS says D.C. is the only jurisdiction in the country that has standardized tests in health and sex education. But, Tenner says, instead of overall results, he'd like to see a breakdown by school just like math and reading test scores.

"We want those scores disaggregated so we know, and parents need to know, when schools are taking this seriously," he says.

Overall the District received an A grade for HIV testing, a B- for leadership and a C+ for monitoring and evaluating the disease.

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