Prince George's County teachers will deal with AIDS in class, but they may postpone answers to explicit questions until afterward.

In Anne Arundel County, educators will not mention sex, but will deal instead with the deadly disease in scientific, statistical and sociological terms.

Those are but two of the early reactions as Maryland educators begin devising responses to state regulations approved this week requiring public schools to teach about the danger of acquired immune deficiency syndrome as early as the elementary grades.

The regulations have presented health educators with some delicate questions: How early can lessons on the disease be introduced? How much do young children need to know? Who should tell them?

In the Washington area, health educators are planning widely varying ways of coping, from answering children's questions frankly to avoiding any delicate discussions on the sexually transmitted disease.

"The way that it's written, every school system will determine how it will be taught," state health specialist Russell Henke said yesterday. But he cautioned that adoption of the state regulation was driven by fears that not all students are getting the information they need. "That's part of the problem we're having now," he said.

The Maryland General Assembly's Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review Committee passed the emergency regulations Tuesday, requiring AIDS instruction in elementary, middle and senior high schools.

The regulations caution that the instruction be "appropriate to the age, interests and needs of students, giving particular regard to students at the early learning level."

While 22 of the state's 24 school districts already include AIDS instruction, most of it has been directed at secondary school students. The pattern reflects the approach most Washington area school systems have taken in educating students about the AIDS virus.

Arlington schools begin teaching youngsters in third grade, compared with fourth grade in Alexandria and the District. Fairfax officials plan to initiate an AIDS lesson for fifth and sixth graders in the second semester of the current school year. Most school systems, including those in Maryland, require parental permission for children to attend sex education classes.

Adopted despite outrage from some parents and fundamentalist groups, the Maryland regulations say lessons on AIDS should include a definition and description of the disease and symptoms, means of transmission, preventive methods and treatment.

In Montgomery County, officials said yesterday they have not yet developed a plan for teaching AIDS in elementary school.

Officials in Prince George's and Anne Arundel generally agreed that the subject should not be introduced before fifth or sixth grade.

Most schools plan to limit sexual discussions in the elementary school, Henke said, focusing instead on the symptoms and allaying unfounded fears about how it can be contacted.

In Prince George's, health supervisor Michael Shaffer said his staff will propose that it be taught first in sixth grade. The lessons will dispel myths about how AIDS can be transmitted but will not introduce the subject of sexual practices, Shaffer said.

"The average sixth grader knows about intercourse and they've heard the term gay. It may come up," Shaffer said. "Teachers will be instructed to answer questions honestly but to the level of maturing and understanding of that student and class. Or the teacher could postpone it to deal with it as an individual question."

Prince George's students in seventh through 12th grade already receive at least one lesson on the subject, examining it as a communicable disease.

"If a student asks a question, like, 'How do homosexuals transmit the disease?' we'll say it's transmitted through homosexual intercourse," Shaffer said. "But it's not part of the lesson that, 'Hey, this is how homosexuals transmit it.' "

Educators in Anne Arundel, with few health teachers available, plan to restrict discussions of the sexual aspect of how the disease can be caught or prevented, even in high school.

County health specialist Sid Molofsky acknowledged that questions about homosexuality are inevitable. "The teacher will give the Funk & Wagnall's definition for it," he explained. "If that doesn't satisfy the student, we tell him to go home and ask his parents, look it up in the library."

The Anne Arundel plan is designed to look at the virus in scientific, statistical and sociological terms. Sixth-grade students will study it along with other viruses in science class; eighth graders will look at its numerical impact and scope on the population in math classes; high school students will study it in social studies class as one of many plagues through history.

Teachers will list as preventive measures abstaining from sex and drug use and avoiding contact with an infected person's blood.

"We stayed away from the {sexual aspect} because you can get it a lot of ways," Molofsky said.

But the state health supervisor cautioned that the Anne Arundel plan may be too limited.

"It's not going to have any benefit to their students. At the high school level, students need to have their questions answered," Henke said.

Almost all agree that children in elementary school are grappling with questions that schools have not been able to answer. In Anne Arundel, queries about AIDS routinely fill question boxes many schools have for sixth-grade students taking health courses.

In both Prince George's and Anne Arundel, educators agree that one message will not be avoided. "Abstinence needs to be mentioned first," Molofsky said.

Shaffer said the decision to stress abstinence is based on the facts, not necessarily morality. "It's that this is the safest behavior," he said.Staff researcher Dianne Saenz contributed to this report.