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Wide Berth Allowed on Teaching About Homosexuality
A judge halted the curriculum in spring 2005. A rewritten version, stripped of religious references and other content the judge found objectionable, won unanimous school board approval last Tuesday.
Betsy Brown, director of curriculum in Montgomery schools and lead author of the sex-ed program, said she was struck by how much of it had to be built "from scratch." The materials on sexual orientation that she sought did not exist, except in little-used supplements to mainstream textbooks.
The Anne Arundel school system, like Montgomery's, interprets the language in the state code on "sexual variations" to mean "other relationships than the male-female relationship," said Jan Arnold, health education resource teacher in the county.
Montgomery's new curriculum will focus on the subject in two 45-minute class periods in grade eight and two in grade 10. Anne Arundel devotes about half as much time at a single grade level, either nine or 10. Instructional materials tell teachers to "examine gender identity, gender roles and gender stereotyping" and to "describe sexual orientation and the impact on self and others."
Less still is said on the topic in Charles County. In 2005, the Board of Education drew up a legislative position supporting laws that would restrict teachers from discussing homosexuality, a direct response to the controversy in Montgomery, board members said. Charles teachers define sexual orientation in Family Life and Human Sexuality class, an elective offered to juniors and seniors. Teachers say more on the topic only in response to a question from a student, school system officials said.
Virginia's guidelines on sex education do not mention sexual orientation or homosexuality, although they address such topics as respect for others, stereotyping and "a positive attitude toward one's sexuality."
It is left to school systems to decide whether and how to teach about sexual orientation, said Charles Pyle, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Education.
Fairfax County schools introduce students to the topic of homosexuality in grade nine and bisexuality in grade 10 in classes that emphasize respect, dignity and the notion "that people have different and strongly held beliefs" on homosexuality, said Paul Regnier, school system spokesman.
Loudoun County schools do not discuss homosexuality or sexual orientation in their health curriculum, said Cara L. LeGrys, supervisor of Family Life Education.
And in Prince William County, homosexuality comes up only during discussion of sexually transmitted diseases, according to a published summary of the curriculum. It instructs that teachers "limit discussions to a technical definition (one who engages in sexual activity with a member of the same sex) and do not explicitly address the acceptability of this lifestyle." Students with further questions are directed to a parent or guardian.