Angry confrontations, including a shoving match, disrupted last week's meeting of the citizens advisory group that screens material used in sex education classes in Montgomery County schools.
The unusual events began when Dr. Charles Schneiderman, chairman of the Montgomery County Advisory Committee on Family Life, tried to expel alternate member Nancy Wells, who had criticized committee procedures for reviewing books submitted by the school staff.
Wells' criticisms were reported recently in both the Montgomery Journal and The Maryland Weekly.
Unable to persuade Wells to leave, Schneiderman said his committee would meet in closed session and took members to another rooom in the Educational Services building in Rockville. There, as he sought to keep out nonmembers, he closed the door to Mary Bowen, chairman of Citizens Responsible for United Education (CURE). She refused to be kept out and pushed back against the door.
"This is no special subject. This is just a meeting of the advisory committee and I'm going in," Bowen said, and plowed forward. A shoving contest with Schneiderman ensued as committee members looked on in amazement.
Several seconds of pushing and pulling ended when Schneiderman released the door and let Bowen pass.
"I'm still in a state of shock over what happened," said Bowen afterwards. Schneiderman was not available for comment.
Earlier, when the meeting began, Schneiderman read a list of reasons Wells could no longer sit on the committee or even be in the room. He said because Wells is an alternate representative of a group already fully represented (United Community Ministry) she could not participate. Wells had been participating informally.
Further, Schneiderman said, Wells had "misrepresented our committee" to the press and "has distorted the facts for her own goals." He added that Wells' statements had "destroyed the integrity" of the members of the committee."
Wells answered that she would stay as an observer only. "I will be mute," she said. Schneiderman replied, "I think you've been enough disruption to this committee. As chairman I can act as sergeant of arms and could expel you from here." Several members of CURE, which monitors the work of the advisory committee, shouted objections.
After saying several times, "Will you please leave, Mrs. Wells?" Schneiderman asked Margaret Lefever, a board of education staff member, to "find another meeting room. I don't want to bodily remove her from the meeting," he said.
Schneiderman then said his committee would reconvene in another room as a "subcommittee meeting taking up a special subject," which would permit him, he said, to restrict the meeting to committee members.
During the recess, Bowen called School Board member Carol Wallace, who called Montgomery School Superintendent Edward Andrews, who called Frances Dean, the highest ranking member of the school system present at the meeting. Dean is the director of instructional resources department.
The word from the superintendent, Dean said, was that the meeting was open to any citizen, including Wells. Dean said she relayed the message to Schneiderman. Shortly afterwards, Wells appeared and took a seat at the side of the smaller, more crowded room.
"We are not going to have secret meetings of advisory committees," Andrews told a reporter the next day.
One of Wells' complaints has been that books are approved after being read by only one member of the committee. Wells said this was the reason "Sex with Love" was approved for student use last month. She has condemned the book because of its explicit and detailed chapters on masturbation, sexual positions and techniques.
Schneiderman has defended the committee, saying that it relies on the "integrity and honesty" of individual members and that the books are often discussed by members of the committee.
Portions of "Sex With Love" were among the materials Wells discussed with Andrews last week. He has read all the material Wells gave him, Andrews said. "It ("Sex With Love") certainly appears to me to be something we should take another look at," he said.
Andrews also said, "If it is true that the committee approves books that have been read by only one of its members, I will be asking Schneiderman to review the committee procedures. I think a minimum of at least three committee (members) ought to read a book," he said.