ANNAPOLIS, SEPT. 22 -- A state plan that would require AIDS education at all Maryland public schools, beginning as early as the third grade, came under attack today from legislators, local school officials and parents.

The emergency proposal by the State Board of Education would direct local school systems to develop AIDS education programs at the elementary, middle school and high school levels and would require that all students receive the information.

But the Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review Committee, which must approve emergency regulations from state agencies, heard the proposal denounced as an expansion of the state's sex education programs, a restriction on parents' rights and an inappropriate subject matter for young children.

Most often, the opponents worried that children would be taught about homosexuality.

"You're playing with a real powder keg of a moral issue here," said Nancy Jacobs, a teacher from Harford County who spoke against the proposal.

State Superintendent David W. Hornbeck said in a letter to the committee that "educating the school-age population on prevention of this deadly disease is crucial to their future." Hornbeck said the emergency action by the panel was necessary in order for the programs to begin in this school year.

The education department will continue with plans for a Nov. 11 public hearing on the subject, although members of the legislative committee said they planned to discuss the issue again.

The committee could at that time reject the department's proposal or suggest amendments.

Under the proposal, each school system would develop an "AIDS prevention education" curriculum by January to be used later this school year at all three education levels.

Annual instruction would be required, but it would be up to school boards to decide in which grades, between three and 12, the courses would be taught.

"Content and curricular topics should be appropriate to the age, interests and needs of students, giving particular regard to students at the early learning level," the proposed regulation stated.

The topics would include a definition and description of the disease, means by which the disease is transmitted and methods to prevent the spread of acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

The proposal was supported by state health officials, the Maryland medical association and officials of the Montgomery County and Baltimore school systems.

At least 22 of the state's 24 jurisdictions already provide some kind of AIDS education, according to officials.

But opponents, including the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, said the education department's proposal goes too far.

"This issue is too sensitive, too controversial and too important to {decide} on an emergency basis," said the association's Executive Director Maureen K. Steinecke.

Others complained about the provision that would allow AIDS education in third grade, the level recently recommended by U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop as a starting point for AIDS discussion.

"My opinion is that grade three is certainly too young," said Sen. James C. Simpson (D-Charles County), cochairman of the committee.

And a recurrent theme was that, since the majority of AIDS victims are homosexuals, "just what will instructors teach 8-, 9- and 10-year-olds about homosexuality?" asked Mary Williams of Frederick County.

Jacobs questioned how much young children needed to know about the transmission of AIDS, since they don't engage in the activities that cause the spread of the disease.

Other opponents pointed out that current education regulations forbid sex education programs before the seventh grade and allow parents to keep their children out of the classes.

But proponents of the regulations said AIDS was not the same thing as birth control or sexuality.

"We're not talking about sex education," said Sen. Barbara Hoffman (D-Baltimore). "We're talking about a disease that kills."

G.C. Edward Masood, director of Driver, Health, Physical Education and Athletics for the Montgomery County school system, said students there receive AIDS information beginning in the eighth grade. Masood, who said he represented neither the superintendent nor the school board, said the proposal was important because it would allow AIDS instruction at lower levels. He told the committee he thought the fifth grade level would be appropriate for initial discussions.

Even though parents may keep their children out of the "family life and human development" curriculum, only about 2 percent of the students in Montgomery County are withdrawn from the courses, Masood said.