By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 4, 2007
The Maryland State Board of Education has ruled in favor of a sex-education curriculum adopted last month for use in Montgomery middle and high schools, finding nothing illegal in the new lessons on sexual orientation and condom use, school officials said yesterday.
In a 17-page June 27 opinion, the state panel declined to "second guess the appropriateness" of the curriculum approved by the Montgomery County Board of Education. Instead, the state panel said it could reverse the county's action only if it violated the law. And after reviewing more than a dozen claims alleged by curriculum opponents, the state board found no violation.
It was the strongest victory to date for Montgomery educators in a pitched legal battle over the county's sex-education curriculum, which has been under revision for five years in an effort to introduce sexual orientation as a topic for discussion in health classes.
"The State Board rejected each and every legal challenge brought by the opponents and determined that there was no valid reason to overturn our decision," said Nancy Navarro (Northeastern County), the county school board president, in a statement. She voiced hope that litigation would "finally come to an end."
A spokeswoman for the community group Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, which led a consortium of opposition groups, said it was too soon to say whether it might take the matter to federal court. "There are many parents here in Montgomery County who are opposed to the curriculum," Michelle Turner said. She also said a growing number of parents outside the county are expressing concern with the lessons, which could be adopted in other Maryland counties.
"I wish we had had an opportunity to address the board," she said. The state panel ruled in a closed session. Seven board members signed the opinion; four abstained.
The Montgomery school system's first attempt at a new curriculum was halted in 2005 by a federal judge who faulted teacher materials that criticized religious fundamentalism. The lessons were recast from scratch.
This year, the revised curriculum survived an initial appeal to State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick. She refused to halt field tests but noted that arguments were "balanced equally on each side," which encouraged the school board's legal opponents.
Opposition groups argued that the new lessons violate free-speech rights of students by expressing only one viewpoint on homosexuality, wholly favorable, and that they restrict religious expression by suppressing the view that homosexuality is a sin. They said the lessons violate the constitutional right of equal protection by excluding the perspective of former homosexuals and also the fundamental right of a parent to control the upbringing of a child.
The state school board dismissed each argument in turn. Local school boards are not required to show all viewpoints in writing curriculum; nothing in the lessons prevents the ideologically opposed from "adhering to their religious beliefs about homosexual acts." The ruling noted that parents must give written consent for their children to take the lessons.
And although a parent does have a right to control the upbringing of a child, "that right is not absolute. It must bend to the State's duty to educate its citizens," the state board wrote.
At issue is a pair of lessons, totaling 90 minutes, to be added to health courses in grades 8 and 10 in the fall, along with a 10th-grade lesson and a DVD on the correct use of a condom.