Leading the Charge

After Magic's Announcement, Schools Across the Country Look to Rindge and Latin's Experiment in Condom Distribution

After Earvin (Magic) Johnson's historic announcement last month that he had contracted the HIV virus, Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School might have been mistaken for the site of a regional AIDS education convention.

In the days following the announcement, Rindge and Latin, which is recognized for its extensive AIDS prevention efforts--including condom distribution to students for the past 18 months--found its halls and auditorium overrun by the media.

And for the next couple of weeks, school systems from around the nation deluged Rindge and Latin with phone calls.

Simply put, everybody wanted to know how one of the nation's leading schools in AIDS education and prevention was responding to the shocking news, said Lynn Schoff, manager of the city-run Teen Health Center located on school property.

"We were contacted by schools from Florida all the way to California," Schoff said. "They were all asking the same questions, looking to learn from our experience."


Sarah Blout, a senior who has participated in Rindge and Latin's AIDS Peer Leader program since the ninth grade, said her group and the Health Center organized a press conference the day after the announcement to urge other schools to adopt similar condom distribution programs.

"We were the smart ones, and they wanted to hear from the smart ones," said Blout, who played a key role in bringing about the condom distribution policy during her sophomore year.

While the outside world was curious about Rindge and Latin's AIDS education program, Schoff said the students were busy asking intelligent, candid questions.

"At first, the school was buzzing," she said. "Through the assemblies organized by the peer leaders that same week, the students showed that they now realize it's possible for them to get the disease."

"And they've never been as receptive to discussion and receiving the information. Hopefully, Magic's announcement will cause adults to reexamine their positions just as the students have," she said.

Blout said her fellow students were less shocked and able to react more responsibly to Magic's announcement than those at other area schools because Rindge and Latin already spends so much effort on AIDS education.

"I know that a lot of my peers immediately went to get tested and reflected on their past. Many went straight to the clinic to get condoms," Blout said.

Not Many Followers

In August, the Massachusetts Department of Education and Public Health recommended that all of its public schools consider AIDS prevention programs, including making condoms available to its students.

But while Schoff said the Magic episode has accelerated the trend, only two other schools in the state, in Falmouth and Martha's Vineyard, have agreed to implement such programs.