Md. Board Starts Over on Sex-Ed Revisions

By Lori Aratani
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Montgomery County school board members voted last night to overhaul the system's disputed sex education curriculum and will begin by tossing out teacher resource materials that drew fire from two community groups and a federal court judge.

The board also said it would not use a seven-minute video for 10th-graders that showed how to put on a condom and would reconstitute a citizens advisory committee to help oversee the rewriting process. A 27-member citizen committee had helped oversee a previous rewrite.

The 7-to-1 vote came more than two weeks after School Superintendent Jerry D. Weast suspended teaching of the new materials to eighth- and 10th-graders.

Weast said last night that the board's action would offer the system the chance for a "fresh look" at the curriculum. "Many school districts across the country are watching us closely and looking to us for leadership," he said. "This is something that's important to our students now and in the future."

It was unclear how last night's action would affect negotiations in the lawsuit brought against the school system this month by two community groups, Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum and the Virginia-based Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays. The groups and the school system had agreed to extend a temporary restraining order in the case through the end of the year in hopes of reaching a settlement in their dispute.

Erik Stanley, who represents the groups, said he was not told the school board would be taking any action in the matter.

"I can't really tell if it's a step in the right direction," he said. "I would have hoped they would not have moved unilaterally."

Teacher resource materials -- which the system intended for use by teachers only -- became the focus of the dispute after U.S. District Court Judge Alexander Williams Jr. cited them in his decision May 5 to grant the temporary restraining order. Williams expressed concern that the resource materials seemed to single out certain religious faiths for not being tolerant of homosexuals. Weast suspended the proposed program hours later.

The board's vote last night means that Maryland's largest school district will rethink its approach to discussing homosexuality with eighth- and 10th-graders.

According to the resolution, which member Valerie Ervin voted against, the curriculum will be rewritten by professional educators and consultants. The citizens advisory committee also will be consulted and review the changes. The board will consider the revisions next school year.

"The board remains strongly committed to a comprehensive health curriculum for our students, and we will continue to work diligently to ensure that our students receive the very best instruction in this important component of our educational program," said Patricia O'Neill, the board's president.

The revised curriculum, which the board had approved in November, had allowed teachers to initiate discussions about homosexuality with eighth-graders and included a video demonstration on how to put on a condom for 10th-graders.

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