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Southern Public Schools and HIV Prevention: Views of Rural African Americans


Stacey W. Lloyd, Yvonne Owens Ferguson, Giselle Corbie-Smith, et al., “The Role of Public Schools in HIV Prevention: Perspectives from African Americans in the Rural South,” AIDS Education and Prevention (2012).



Ninety three African American residents from two rural counties in North Carolina expressed their opinions about the role of local public schools in HIV prevention. Participants expressed their views in 11 focus groups which involved a total of 55 adults and 38 youth. Among the participants were persons formerly incarcerated and/or at higher than average risk for HIV infection.  The focus groups were conducted in 2006 as part of a community-based participatory research effort called Project GRACE (Growing, Reaching, Advocating for Change and Empowerment) in eastern North Carolina. According to the authors, “to date, no published research has examined a rural community’s perspectives about sex education policy in public schools and its impact on a community with high rates of HIV/AIDS.”1


 Key Findings:

  • Participants consistently cited the sex education policies and practices of local public schools as an obstacle to effective HIV prevention for youth in their communities
  • Adults often expressed the belief that local schools provided less sexuality education than in the past, and expressed skepticism that abstinence-only education was adequate for protecting youth from the risk of HIV infection
  • Youth and adults frequently suggested having health professionals in local schools on a routine basis to provide sexual health education and screening/referral/testing for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections



The rural South continues to experience higher-than-average rates of HIV infection, with African Americans disproportionately infected and affected. In many Southern communities, public schools have resisted frank, open instruction about the full range of ways that sexually-active people can prevent HIV infection. Even when state laws have permitted local school districts to teach about condoms and contraception, school boards, administrators, and teachers may still favor abstinence-only-until-marriage approaches. As the Project Grace focus groups demonstrated, people in the most affected communities are skeptical of abstinence-only approaches and view the public schools as obstacles to HIV prevention when more comprehensive instruction is lacking. Focus group participants repeatedly cited the need for schools to have more medical experts on staff to provide better access to sexual health care; school stakeholders committed to improving HIV prevention should explore ways to integrate sexual health care services into local school facilities.


1 Lloyd SW, Ferguson YO, Corbie-Smith G, et al. (2012). The role of public schools in HIV prevention: perspectives from African Americans in the rural routh. AIDS Education and Prevention 24(1):41-53.