A Sept. 12 Metro article incorrectly said that a citizens advisory committee must approve a sex education video for the Montgomery County school system. The committee makes nonbinding recommendations to the Board of Education.
MONTGOMERY SEX EDUCATION
Foe of Condom Video Praises Revision
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
The Montgomery County public school system's new condom video is getting positive reviews from some unexpected quarters.
Members of Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, one of two groups that sued to block the original condom video from being shown to 10th-graders in Maryland's largest school system, say they are pleased with a new version that they think takes a more "clinical approach" to condom instruction.
"You don't have a cute little blonde and a cucumber,'' said Michelle Turner, president of CRC. "It's not MTV. It's very factual and clinical. There are no frills or fluff.''
If approved by a citizens advisory committee and the Board of Education, the video and other parts of the revised health education curriculum would be taught in a small number of schools this spring.
In the original eight-minute video, a blond female health education teacher spoke about proper condom use, then used a cucumber to demonstrate the correct way to put on a prophylactic.
In the new version, a wooden penis replaces the vegetable. Only a pair of hands is shown putting the condom on it, and an off-screen narrator describes the details. In both versions of the video, the narrator emphasizes that abstinence is the most effective way to avoid pregnancy and the contraction of a sexually transmitted disease.
"It's very impersonal,'' said Jim Kennedy, a member of the citizens advisory committee working with the school system on the curriculum rewrite. "This is a starting point. I'm sure the committee may want to make some changes."
Kennedy is also a member of teachthefacts.org, which lobbied for the previous curriculum and maintains a Web site and blog about Montgomery's health education curriculum. CRC also maintains a Web site, where it has made the proposed condom video available for viewing.
The previous video was "more of an entertainment style,'' said Betsy Brown, director of the school system's department of curriculum and instruction. The new video "is about life-and-death matters, and the tone is very much how a health practitioner might approach this."
For the eight-minute video to be used, it must be approved by the citizens committee of which Kennedy is a member and by the school board. The video is part of a more than year-long effort to overhaul the school system's sex education curriculum. The original curriculum, which for the first time included discussions about homosexuality in the eighth- and 10th-grades and a video on condom use for sophomores, was scuttled in May 2005 after CRC and a second group, Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays, sued the school system.
The two groups said the 2004 updates favored certain viewpoints about homosexuality. A U.S. District Court judge agreed and issued a temporary restraining order May 2005, saying that the teacher resource materials seemed to single out some religions for intolerance of homosexuality. Hours after the decision, Superintendent Jerry D. Weast threw out the curriculum, which had been taught on a pilot basis in three middle and three high schools that spring.
The proposed video, part of a 45-minute lesson, comes with a 37-page guide -- essentially a script -- to what teachers should tell students and includes worksheets for students. A draft of the lesson plan includes this statement in bold type: "Under no circumstances are teachers permitted to bring in or use resources other than those provided for this lesson." And it says, "This lesson is scripted and should be read and followed in its entirety."
Once work is completed on the condom lesson, the committee will turn its attention to the two 45-minute lessons that deal with sexual orientation.
The dispute in Montgomery mirrors battles that have raged across the country. In November, even though there were no plans to review the curriculum, some members of the Charles County Board of Education took the unusual step of drawing up a list of issues they didn't want included in sex education courses: discussions of homosexuality and demonstrations of condom use.
Brian Edwards, spokesman for the Montgomery school system, said board members are scheduled to vote on the new materials in January. The three 45-minute lessons, part of a semester-long health education class, will then be used as a pilot program in a limited number of middle and high schools. Depending on the outcome of the pilot effort, the board would make a final decision about the curriculum in June.