The simmering controversy over sex education in Fairfax County is heating up again, fueled by attempts of a citizens group to distribute anti-sex education literature at county schools. The attempts brought protests from PTA groups and school officials, who contend it is against school rules to distribute the information inside school buildings.
The literature in dispute consists of a four-page booklet prepared by Fairfax Citizens for a Positive Education. The group was formed last summer, after the Fairfax school board ordered its staff to study the current sex education program, with the possibility of expanding the program. The citizens group opposes any expansion.
At Back to School nights, sponsored by PTAs and held at most county schools early each fall, Fairfax Citizens attempted to distribute the booklet, "Parental Rights . . . Will yours be violated by the Fairfax schools?" But members said they met a variety of reactions when they tried to hand out the pamphlet: Some were welcomed, others were tolerated and still others say they were threatened with being thrown out if they tried to distribute the literature.
Leaders of the group said they chose Back to School nights because they were the most logical events to reach the people most concerned about the sex education program.
"Where else could we go to find parents of school-aged children together like that?" asks Mary Kay Stine, a member of the group and a former PTA president.
Some principals admit privately that they did not allow the pamphlet to be distributed at their schools, saying that it violated a school board resolution or a county ordinance, or that they understood the administration did not want the pamphlets distributed.
However, Tom Cawley, the school board attorney, says the rule is simple: "A school system can make reasonable decisions about literature handed out as to time, place and manner."
One reason for the citizens' concern is the school staff report of sex education, which is expected in January, and which Fairfax Citizens members believe will support an expansion and "liberalization" of the sex-ed program. The attempt to distribute the booklet, the citizens say, was part of a plan to mobilize parents opposed to changes in sex-ed prior to the release of the staff report.
In its newsletter of Oct. 28, the Fairfax County Council of PTAs warned its members about the Back to School night efforts of the citizens group, saying that distribution of the group's booklets violates "school board resolution 2330 . . ."
The resolution appears in a student booklet revised in 1978 and entitled "Rights and Responsibilities of Secondary School Students," and reads in part:
"Distribution of literature, announcements, posters, bulletins and communications by individuals not directly connected with the school, including students not presently enrolled in the school, shall not be permitted without the express approval of the principal or his/her designee."
Members of Fairfax Citizens contend that by including the rule in the student handbook, the school board intended to apply the resolution to students only, not to citizens attending public meetings.
But the group's most serious concerns center on their rights as parents and taxpayers and the fear that the schools do not have specific guidelines on the type of literature that can be distributed.
First, the group says, the resolution puts the school board in the curious position of labeling parents as "individuals not directly concerned with the schools" -- a position the group unequivocally rejects.
Charles Sickels, an attorney who is president of Fairfax Citizens, says the resolution also leaves the decision of whether specific literature should be handed out to the principal or another school official, without providing clear guidelines. Without guidelines, Sickels says, decisions could be subject to the whims or prejudices of a school administrator.
Some Fairfax Citizens also contend the resolution is being applied selectively to their group. They say that other groups, such as the Taxpayer's Alliance and the Fairfax Education Association, have handed out literature at several PTA meetings.
PTA officials, however, say those groups had permission from the principal in the schools involved. So far this year, the Fairfax Education Association has been allowed to use PTA meetings as a forum to present their literature.
"The only real concern we had was that a lot of people would interpret this [the anti-sex education booklet] as the official [PTA] county council view," said Sandra Kennedy, chairman of the PTA County Council committee on family life. "We were basically telling our PTA presidents not to let their members be confused with this propaganda.
"I find it hard to characterize it as anything other than hysterical propaganda," Kennedy added.
Fairfax Citizens, hwoever, says the PTA Council has taken a position in favor of an expanded sex education program and has freely circulated their own position paper among local PTA's. The citizens group, members say, is just asking for equal time.
"What are they afraid of?" asks one member of the Fairfax Citizens group. "All we want to do is present our side of the story."