EASTON, MD., OCT. 10 -- After hearing almost two hours of often emotional and conflicting testimony tonight, the Talbot County school board postponed for two weeks a decision on whether to distribute condoms in its high schools.

Board members listened intently to more than 20 speakers, most of whom favored the proposal offered last month by John Ryan, the county's health director. Ryan stresses that the proposal is for disease control as much as for birth control.

Ryan's proposal calls for school nurses to give condoms to sexually active students without parental consent, but only after the students are counseled on the consequences of sex, including the threat of sexually transmitted disease, and advised of abstinence as a choice.

If the board adopts the plan, Talbot may become the first system in the nation to distribute condoms without parental consent. A similar proposal is being considered in New York City.

One mother who stressed the consequences of sex at tonight's hearing was Debbie Pinder, 31. She told of an honor student who became pregant, got married, had her baby and had to leave school before graduation. "I'm that girl," she said. "Let the school nurse give our children condoms and counsel them so they won't mess up the rest of their lives."

Among those speaking for the proposal was Tom Farmer, the student president at Easton High School, who presented a petition signed by 400 students, nearly half of those enrolled at the school.

Several nurses with the county public health department also spoke in favor, stressing the growing threat of AIDS and the reality of sexually active youth. Almost all those supporting the measure said that they thought teenagers should be counseled to abstain from sex, but that those who didn't should be protected from the ravages of disease.

"With the onset of AIDS, we're really talking about life and death," said former school board member Joy Price, a psychotherapist.

"AIDS is not a moral issue," said Anne Ryan, a county nurse. "It is a public health issue that affects us all."

But parent Julie Galusky said, "Abstinence will prevent AIDS."

Galusky was one of several who spoke in opposition to the proposal, primarily on moral grounds.

"So-called old values and God-given values work," insisted Sharon Boggess, a parent. "This {sex} act is given by God for two mature mates to share."

Boggess and others said that handing out condoms while encouraging abstinence would send adolescents a mixed message.

The Rev. Robert Hawkins, an Easton minister, urged the school board to "draw the line" by rejecting the proposal. "There are no standards anymore," he said. "We fail to teach accountability and responsibility."

But the Rev. Howard Gordy, a United Methodist minister, said, "God is for health. This is a moral value too. We can support Dr. Ryan's proposal on that basis."

Ryan came to the hearing armed with an Oct. 9 letter of support from the Governor's Council on Adolescent Pregnancy. "The Council hopes that the Talbot county Board of Education will support the proposal," said the letter, signed by Executive Director Bronwyn Mayden.

"I can see both sides," said Laura Harrison, school board president. She said it is a tossup whether redrawing school boundaries or giving out condoms is the hottest issue facing the panel. "It's six of one, half-dozen of the other," she said.