A citizen committee is proposing to the Montgomery County Board of Education that students be allowed to inspect actual birth control devices in biology and sex education classes.

The recommendation has revived the debate -- animated nationally but relatively dormant in Montgomery since the early 1980s -- over what and how schools should teach youngsters about sex.

The proposed "contraceptive device kits," for use with students in grades eight through 12, have provoked sharp differences of opinion within the school system's family life and human development advisory committee, which submitted the recommendations to the board last night.

The group's input included a rare minority report, written by Barbara Ruppert, a Kensington parent who contends that the exposure to birth control would encourage teenagers to have sex. "You don't sit a youngster down behind the wheel of a car, show him how to drive, hand him the key, and then say, 'Don't drive yet,' " Ruppert wrote.

The proposal also mobilized a vocal group of sex education backers and detractors, who pleaded their cases last night before the board.

Most were against the teaching of contraception in schools, and their arguments extended considerably beyond the narrow question of whether students should see birth control devices.

"I don't want our children to think our society has given up on the last semblance of morality," said Bernie Latt, of Gaithersburg, a single father who said he would rather teach his two daughters about sex himself than entrust the job to a woman teacher. "I am not for public school displays that are little more than a passion permission slip."

Many speakers said the schools should teach only the merits of abstinence. But Steven Zepnick, a county social worker with two children, countered, "The question is, what do we do? . . . We can't teach people abstinence who are already involved."

School board members and Superintendent Harry Pitt emphasized that the proposal, which was part of the advisory committee's annual report, remains at an early stage and may not come up for a vote for months, if at all.

The report laments the fact that few county teenagers take an elective course on family life and sexuality. According to school system figures, about 600 of Montgomery's 26,000 high school students take the class each year.

Virtually all high school students are taught about contraceptives during a five- to 10-day section in biology and in general science classes. As required by the state, a student must have a parent's written permission to take that part of the class.

But Daniel Finn, the committee's chairman, said that the instruction in the science classes "has nothing to do with the whole issue of decision-making" that is covered in the elective.

And he said more students evidently need those lessons. "We have less than 600 students attending those classes, but about 1,000 students in Montgomery are getting pregnant each year."

Whether students learn about birth control in an elective or a science class, he said, the instruction would be more effective if students could see actual condoms, diaphragms, spermicides and other forms of contraception. "It is sort of like teaching chemistry, but never letting students touch a microscope," he said. "We don't want condoms to be passed out in schools, but to have a display box that would be sealed . . . . Why make a mystique out of it?"

But Ruppert said in an interview, "It would be a shame for our schools to move one tiny step toward making {teenaged sex} seem more viable."

The school board last night also voted to oppose four proposed amendments to the county's charter, intended to limit taxes and county expenditures.

Pitt broke his usual silence on political issues, urging board members to work to defeat the amendments. He said that they "would do great damage to our school system" at a time when enrollment is expected to swell by one-fourth by 1995.

Before the unanimous vote, board member Blair Ewing said schools have been "inevitably damaged" in other parts of the country where voters have imposed tax limits. "The consequence of limiting local expenditures would be that Montgomery County, which has had a fine school system, might no longer have a fine school system," he said.

Area school systems have adopted a variety of approaches to instructing students about birth control.

Currently, Prince George's County high school students may inspect kits containing contraceptives "for display purposes only," said Michael Schaffer, the school system's health education supervisor. Schaffer said the kits have been used since 1974 and have been relatively uncontroversial.

District teachers also show students birth control devices, according to a school system spokeswoman.

In Fairfax County, teachers can discuss and show pictures of contraceptives, but cannot bring contraceptives to class, said Marie Sterne, the coordinator of health and physical education there.