High school English teacher Michael Hoover was alarmed at how little his students knew about AIDS.

"They were full of misinformation. They were convinced that the disease had nothing to do with them, that only gays and intravenous drug users could get it," said Hoover, who teaches at George Mason Junior-Senior High School in Falls Church and sponsors the school newspaper Lasso.

To help his students better understand the disease, he suggested that Lasso devote an entire issue to AIDS. Some of the student journalists felt uneasy with the topic until they learned that heterosexuals and nondrug users also can contract the fatal disease.

"We had some opposition {from students on the newspaper} to {the special issue}," said Genie Nolan, a junior and Lasso's editor in chief. "People didn't feel comfortable. They didn't know how widespread the problem is. As a newspaper, we could do something to make kids aware and to get the facts around."

Under Hoover's guidance, Nolan and her staff spent about a month reading articles about acquired immune deficiency syndrome in magazines and medical journals. They also interviewed Mary Lee Tatum, a sex education specialist at the school, and Dr. Robert Redfield, a virologist who has spent five years researching the disease at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.

Tatum discussed with the young journalists the role of proper sex education as a way to prevent the disease, and Redfield spoke about the risks to teen-agers of contracting the disease. With the help of a psychology class, one student reporter surveyed students' attitudes toward sex and AIDS.

The information from the interviews and survey, plus a first-person account of one student's experience with AIDS testing, was included in a special eight-page issue published in March. According to School Board members, students and local educators, Lasso's AIDS edition was well received.

School Board member Michele Black was so impressed with its accuracy and sensitive writing that she forwarded it to Surgeon General Everett C. Koop's office. His office forwarded it to the federal Centers for Disease Control, where the edition has been added to the Combined Health Information Database for use by educators, health professionals and librarians across the country.

The publication has received recognition from educators in other Washington area school districts.

"It's an excellent publication. It's carefully written," said Jean Hunter, a curriculum specialist for Family Life Education in the Alexandria schools.

"It's very well done," said Edward Masood, who directs health education and health services for the Montgomery County schools. Masood says he hopes to use it as a resource for teachers and administrative staff.

According to Black, efforts are under way to raise money to have the special issue reprinted so it can be distributed to other school systems.

Nolan and the students who worked on the Lasso said they believe they have helped themselves and their fellow students better understand a serious social problem.

"There is something about peer education that seems to make things more real to teen-agers," Nolan said. "It's a public service. We made a decision to let everyone know."