New Sex-Ed Curriculum Is Urged for All Schools

Superintendent Jerry D. Weast said students and teachers generally were satisfied with the lessons.
Superintendent Jerry D. Weast said students and teachers generally were satisfied with the lessons. (Ricky Carioti - Twp)
By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 8, 2007

Montgomery County schools Superintendent Jerry D. Weast recommended yesterday that new health lessons on sexual orientation and condom use be expanded to all middle and high schools in the fall with only minor revisions, based on the results of field tests at six schools this spring.

The lessons are the fruit of five years of debate on how, if at all, homosexuality should be addressed in sex-education classes. Approved in January and piloted in March, the teaching materials will reach all eighth- and 10th-grade health classrooms in the fall if Weast's recommendations are adopted Tuesday by the school board.

In a memo delivered yesterday to board members, Weast wrote that students and teachers seemed mostly satisfied with the lessons. He suggested no change to their content.

Board members will have to weigh conflicting recommendations. Weast wants the lessons to go forward essentially as written, but a citizens advisory committee wants board members to add passages stating that mainstream medical and mental health organizations have concluded that homosexuality is neither a disease nor a mental illness.

Weast and his staff oppose adding the material and say they have sought to keep the lessons as neutral as possible. Members of the citizens committee contend that the extra passages would help students cope with their sexuality and help teachers answer their questions.

In January, a divided school board rejected adding such language to the lessons.

The only problems reported by teachers and other school employees after the field tests were "media persistence in contacting staff, parents, or students; and community members contacting parents by phone or postal mail and providing erroneous information," Weast wrote. The pilot program drew heavy news coverage, and parents at the schools fielded calls and mailings from groups opposed to the lessons.

Opposition, led by the group Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, now centers on an appeal pending before the state Board of Education, asking that the new lessons be overturned. A decision is expected this summer.

Teachers and students who participated in the field tests chafed at the tightly scripted structure of the lessons, and teachers reported confusion about their authority to answer questions posed by students. Teachers were instructed to answer no questions that strayed outside the health curriculum and to refer such inquiries to "a trusted adult," such as a parent or counselor.

Erring on the side of caution, teachers "didn't answer some questions that they could have," said schools spokesman Brian Edwards.

Teachers said the volume of worksheets depleted the time available for students to absorb the information. At the middle school level, more than half the students who submitted feedback forms complained about the pacing of the lessons.

Weast said some worksheets would be eliminated.

"If anything," Edwards said, "what the field tests showed is that there's a lot of material jampacked into two 45-minute lessons already."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company