Montgomery County school officials, reacting to persistent complaints about the school system's sex education program, banned two books last week and proposed tougher guidelines for choosing new materials.
The move followed months of controversy over the books and the way a citizens advisory committee had approved sex education materials for the school system.
The decision was announced last Thursday at the monthly meeting of the citizens committee, which is appointed by the School Board and must approve all sex education materials before they are used in schools.
Before a group of about 20 spectators, the meeting erupted into a stormy two-hour session over how the committee should proceed in the future and a debate over events that disrupted last month's meeting.
At that session Chairman Dr. Charles Schneiderman closed the meeting to outsiders, but was forced to allow citizens in after Superintendent Edward Andrews ordered the meeting opened.
The decision to ban "Sex with Love" and "Below the Belt," two proposed library books that had been approved by the school system staff and were being considered by the committee, was made by Deputy Superintendent Lois Martin. Martin reviewed the books after committee member Nancy Wells protested that the books were "shocking."
In a letter to Schneiderman, Martin said she and Andrews agreed the books violated the state bylaws' prohibition against any material portraying "erotic techniques of sexual intercourse."
"If the committee were to approve either of these books," Martin wrote, Andrews "would not allow them to be used in the schools."
"I am sorry that inattention by the staff Health Evaluation and Selection Committee in these instances . . . has thrust the citizens advisory committee into a major controversy in the press," she said.
Martin said later in a telephone interview that she has asked the staff this summer to review all materials "to cull the collection down to the very best things" and discard any outdated books.
Although she said the chances were "remote" for finding other material that violates state bylaws, she added, "If anything objectionable is found we'll certainly get rid of it."
Martin also has proposed that all new materials be scrutinized first by the staff health committee before they are sent to the citizens committee for final approval.
In addition, Superintendent Andrews has asked the citizens committee to develop written procedures, and requested that it approve no book without a review by at least three members. The proposals must be approved by the committee.
Until recently the committee had operated informally and in relative obscurity. But several citizens groups have vehemently opposed the committee's actions, partly in an effort to prevent implementation of a school proposal to teach contraception to eighth graders next year.
Disputes over the committee's actions have become so intense that Andrews last week requested the meetings be taped and open for public review.
Before an audience of her supporters last week, newly appointed member Nancy Wells demanded the committee stop reviewing any materials until it receives a legal ruling on what the state bylaw means by "erotic techniques" and "sexual deviation."
She said such a ruling is imperative because committee members obviously cannot agree on the definitions and many members had approved of the banned book "Sex with Love."
Other members argued it was the responsibility of the committee, using community standards, to make those judgment calls.
"If we sit around and wait for the attorney general (to rule on the definitions) we may be waiting for the next 20 years," said Schneiderman.
Wells' motion failed in a 9-to-8 vote, with Schneiderman breaking the tie.
The meeting ended with heated exchanges. Wells angrily objected to the fact that last month's minutes did not include Schneiderman's statement accusing her of disrupting an earlier meeting and of distorting the committee's work in the press.
While Schneiderman sat silent, Wells demanded he clarify those charges and give her time to reply. After several minutes of arguing among members, Schneiderman abruptly adjourned the meeting over Wells' objections.