Sensible Sex Education

Monday, July 4, 2005

THE LEGAL offensive against changes to Montgomery County's sex education curriculum is over. For now.

In May, the two groups leading the charge, Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum -- a group formed specifically for this fight -- and Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays, sued for a temporary restraining order to block a trial in six schools of the revised "family life and human sexuality" unit. The Montgomery County School Board settled the lawsuit with a promise that teachers would not discuss specific religious beliefs regarding sexuality. The board also agreed to pay $36,000 for the groups' legal fees -- a reasonable decision when weighed against the like-

lihood of a protracted court battle costing

the school system hundreds of thousands of dollars.

And so the process begins anew. This time, the school board has asked the superintendent to ensure that every detail of the updated curriculum is legally airtight and educationally sound. One of the casualties of the restraining order was a video produced by the county school system to educate students on the correct way to use a condom. We hope the superintendent and the school board will see fit to include it again this time around. In addition to giving vital information to sexually active teens -- sandwiched between messages reinforcing the fact that abstinence is the only completely safe option -- the video saves teachers the embarrassment of demonstrating prophylactic technique. To its credit, the board has committed to adding the subject of sexual orientation to the course, a change from the current policy that allows it to be addressed briefly only in response to students' specific questions.

Let's be clear: The changes involve only one unit of the health education course for eighth- and 10th-graders, amounting to just 90 minutes -- two class periods -- of instruction. As required by Maryland law, a citizens advisory committee will consult with educators developing the revisions. Parents have the option to review course material, and they must give written consent before their children can take part. Parents who withhold consent may choose from three substitutions to the standard curriculum: an abstinence-only unit; a lesson on stress management, nutrition or a similarly benign subject; or an independent study on a health topic designated by the parent.

Meanwhile, students whose parents have no objections to the course will get accurate information about sexual orientation, abstinence, and preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. We think that the school board is right to include this information in a sex education course, but the alternatives provided are more than adequate for those who disagree.

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