Anne Arundel County, reacting to the nationwide AIDS epidemic, has become the first Washington area school system to issue rubber gloves to all teachers, although county officials said they know of no students infected with the deadly disease.
The school system began handing out the colorless, plastic gloves at the beginning of the school year, and told teachers to wear them when dealing with nose bleeds, cuts, vomiting, bathroom accidents and other situations that expose them to bodily fluids.
Although no other local jurisdiction has issued the gloves to all teachers, several other school systems have become concerned about the possible spread of the AIDS virus to teachers and are making rubber gloves available to certain teachers who they think need them.
"It may be overkill in one respect," said Betsy Fleming, health issues coordinator for the Anne Arundel schools, "but I'd rather do that than be at the other end of the spectrum."
Anne Arundel school officials said no case of the deadly acquired immune deficiency syndrome has been reported among the county's 65,000 public school students. And there are no known cases of students with AIDS in other local jurisdictions, those school officials said.
But Fleming said the gloves were a good idea "just in terms of preventing any kind of infectious diseases, including the common cold."
"I don't think it's a reasonable approach at all," said Jeff Levi, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "It is encouraging the notion that AIDS can be spread through casual contact and that just isn't medically justifiable."
The Anne Arundel glove policy was first written by the school board in 1985, after the school system had problems dealing with a young student with open herpes sores. It has not been implemented until recently, Fleming said, because the school system has had difficulty obtaining suitable gloves.
Unlike adults who largely have gotten AIDS from sexual contact or intravenous drug use, children contract AIDS from an infected mother at birth or through infected blood or blood products. Since 1985, all blood has been screened for the presence of the AIDS virus.
Beginning this fall, rubber gloves were distributed to teachers in three North Carolina school districts, and supplies of gloves were placed in all classrooms in New York City public schools. Rubber gloves also have been distributed in schools in Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania where school officials knew that a student had AIDS.
Many school officials in the Washington area said they do not feel they need to issue gloves. Gloves are not issued to teachers in the District or Alexandria, or in Howard or Prince George's counties. "We're not planning anything like that," said District school spokesman Maurice Sykes. "We haven't even given it any thought."
Gloves are available for teachers who feel they need them in Montgomery, Fairfax, Arlington and Loudoun counties and will soon be available in Prince William County.
A spokeswoman for Montgomery County schools said that, although the gloves have been available for many years for teachers who might need them, health rooms now have larger stocks, and their presence has been advertised in school bulletins.
Prince William County officials said they expected a new regulation to be in place in four weeks that would make rubber gloves available to teachers and other staff members who deal with accidents.
The Teachers' Association of Anne Arundel County, which represents the county's 3,900 teachers, supports the program and helped draw up the 1985 guidelines. "It's just plain good health practice," said association President Susie C. Jablinske. "The disease of the day is AIDS, but it's a good procedure for any contagious disease."