In response to your coverage and letters to the editor, I feel that it is important to clarify how the leadership at El Portal came to the decision of offering a workshop on HIV/AIDS and how it can be contracted through straight and gay relationships.

El Portal offers the students a series of workshops presented by teachers, MACSA staff and other community based organizations during an enrichment period. These workshops focus on personal growth, development and leadership. It was through this venue that some students brought a request to learn how HIV/AIDS is transmitted through both straight and gay relationships.

MACSA staff contacted ARIS of Santa Clara County to see if they would be able to provide this information to high school students. El Portal staff sent out permission slips one week in advance and attached a flyer clearly explaining what was to be discussed so parents would have a clear idea of what the presentation was going to focus on.

Approximately 20 students brought back signed permission slips. In accordance with MACSA policy, only students with signed permission slips were allowed to participate. The parents of these students entrusted MACSA to provide their youth with information that they felt uncomfortable with and or felt that they did not have the medical background to present all the facts.

I commend the staff at El Portal in their selections of ARIS to provide the HIV/AIDS information. ARIS is the county’s leading experts on HIV/AIDS and presented the information with the utmost professionalism and most current medical facts. I sat in on part of the presentation to the students.

As usual, the information was presented in a professional manner that clearly educated the students on how this deadly disease can attack their immune system and more importantly dispelled the myths that only gay men can acquire HIV/AIDS.

In response to Mr. David J. Rivas’ letter, I would like to clarify what my full statement to Ms. Rachel Land regarding parental consent. My statement was, “we have the right to provide educational information to youth whose parents have given us parental consent”.

As a lifelong professional in community service and advocate for families and youth, the rights of parents is something I would never violate.

Ms. Land neglected to state that only a handful of parents – five – adamantly objected to the presentation and came to the school that day. Those parents’, along with all others who did not sign permission slips, rights were respected and their children did not attend the workshop.

It is a parent’s right to delegate education on sensitive issue such as HIV/AIDS to professionals, as much as it is right for parents to provide this education from their own homes. Respectfully, each individual family was given the right to make those decisions for themselves.

El Portal staff and parents have come together in forum to discuss the process on how to bring forth sensitive educational issues in the future. Continued dialogue and mutual respect have been the foundation in the development of El Portal Leadership Academy as we preserve and progress towards our mission to provide a quality and comprehensive educational program. We will continue to walk the road less traveled and expect that there will be some challenges along the way.

OLIVIA SOZA-MENDIOLA, Gilroy, Mexican American Community Services Agency Associate Director

Submitted Monday, April 22

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