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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
November 9, 2007

State turns down $1.25 million for HIV education

Avalanche of e-mails may change agency’s mind, though

Columbus--State residents are inundating the Ohio Department of Education with phone calls and e-mails after the agency indicated that it would not apply for $1.25 million in federal grant money earmarked for the state.

By not applying, Ohio joins only Utah in rejecting the Centers for Disease Control, Division of Adolescent and School Health grants, which would be paid out as $250,000 a year for half a decade.

Ohio did not apply for the grant seven years ago, when the state was in the midst of an abstinence-only sex education frenzy. This year, however, saw the inauguration of Gov. Ted Strickland, who has already rejected abstinence-only funding.

If the state doesn’t apply for the DASH money by November 21, they will not be able to apply again for another five years.

The fate of that earmark is far from sealed, says Earl Pike, executive director of the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland.

Pike sent out an e-mail last week urging people to contact the Department of Education and ask them to apply for the money. He has continued to send updates on the situation, each one ticking off higher and higher numbers of calls and e-mails received by the education department. By November 6 this stood at about 1,500, reportedly all in favor of applying for the money.

The funds would be used to hire staff at the education department to promote what AIDS service organizations refer to as “evidence-based HIV prevention,” as opposed to “abstinence-only until marriage” education.

Abstinence-only curricula are often criticized for putting forward false information, including fabricated statistics on condom failure. Gays and lesbians, prohibited from marrying in all but one state, are completely ignored.

According to Pike, the governor’s office has publicly supported applying for the DASH grant, and reports coming out of the education department indicate that the volume of correspondence from taxpayers is having an effect, swinging the pendulum towards requesting the money.

He warns, however, that it is necessary to keep up the pressure on the agency and Ohio Superintendent of Schools Susan Tave Zelman.

The Plain Dealer, Cleveland’s daily newspaper, printed an editorial on November 1 taking Zelman and her department to task for not requesting the money.

“Only Utah has been as shortsighted as Ohio in failing to apply for these helpful funds,” wrote the newspaper’s editorial board. “The other 48 states are wise enough to take the money and craft their own HIV education programs.”

“If Ohio education officials had read the fine print, they would have seen that they could do that, too,” it continues. “Health experts say the money is sorely needed . . . Chlamydia and gonorrhea caseloads are up. Teenagers, with their ill-informed concept of mortality, need to know that they could be putting their own lives, and many other people’s, in danger.”

“I am stunned by [the response],” said Pike. “One of Elizabeth’s [his wife’s] friends, one of the parents at our school, somehow got a copy of the e-mail that I sent out, sent it out to a huge list of parents, saying we have to do something about this. People are responding to this.”

“I think that 1,500 is a little conservative,” he continued. “I’ve heard from two separate sources saying ODE is being overwhelmed. I think it’s touching a nerve with parents, with progressives, with everyone saying, ‘Tell me again why ODE is not applying.’ ”

Dr. Zelman’s office can be contacted at Susan.zelman@ode.state.oh.us or 614-4667578. Pike recommends that those e-mailing her carbon-copy members of the Gov. Strickland’s staff, including Janetta King, policy director, at Janetta.King@governor.ohio.gov; Robin Harris, executive assistant for health and human services at Robin.Harris@governor.ohio.gov, and John Standford, executive assistant for education, at John.Standford@governor.ohio.gov.

“It’s not too late for people to make a difference. Every voice counts, every voice should be heard,” Pike stressed.

 

 

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