When a group of Loudoun County parents asked Barbara Chauncey to talk to them last year about Family Life Education, the self-described homemaker jumped at the chance.
Known as an opponent of a 1987 state mandate that schools teach sex education, Chauncey was asked to share what she knew. She told parents gathered in the living room to resist much of the program.
Her message was simple: By forcing all children to take classes about sex education beginning last fall, the school district encroaches on areas of education that should be left to parents.
"I believe parents are the natural experts with their children," said Chauncey, 45, who removed her five children from the school system to avoid Family Life Education. "I believe parents are the natural, first and primary educators of their children."
Although the message took root in dozens of similar meetings in the following months, Chauncey said she had no idea it would lead to the formation of the activist group now called the Loudoun Educational Resource Council.
Formerly known as the Concerned Citizens of Loudoun, which formed last year to resist sex education, the council adopted its new name this summer to reflect a broader approach to education issues, Chauncey said.
This week, in its first newsletter to about 900 residents, the council presses the school system to change a new policy that limits the rights of parents to choose which Family Life classes their children attend.
Several members of the group spoke out against the policy at a School Board meeting earlier this month.
Called the "opt-out" procedure, the policy allows parents to pull their children from certain new sex education courses. But the policy also requires that children attend certain, less sensitive courses that would be required even without a Family Life program. The school district said the policy would help eliminate some redundant classes.
The council contends the policy is illegal because it contradicts state rules and takes away the rights of parents to choose.
"This misrepresents the intent of the state school board and the attorney general and is a violation of parents' and students' rights," the council said in its newsletter, which urges parents to write to the School Board and their state legislators.Loudoun's Family Life program addresses topics ranging from human sexuality and contraception to the value of postponing sexual activity until marriage.
School officials said last week that although they based the policy on advice from the state Department of Education, they would seek a ruling from state officials. An announcement of the ruling is likely this week, school officials said.
Janet Palmer, 41, a mother of two and a council organizer, said the "opt-out" policy is only the first issue the council intends to address. She believes parents want the school to focus more on academics and on what the council calls traditional values: Values grounded in the idea of traditional families with two parents living at home.
"Many parents would like their children to spend more time with academics," she said. "I question why there has to be emphasis placed on all these different lifestyles."
Palmer, of Sterling, and Chauncey, of Waterford, said the group -- a core six or seven families -- will meet or mail newsletters when it appears the need for their perspective is acute. Palmer said the school district provides information, but only "from their point of view."
The Loudoun school system has given the group and its message a lukewarm response. C. Carroll Laycock, chairman of the School Board, applauded the council's interest in education, but said it takes a narrow approach to a difficult challenge: to educate children from all types of backgrounds.
"We as parents know what's best for our children," Laycock said. "But the sad thing is that not every home is blessed with a mother and father . . . . We have to look at what's best for the overall."
Associate Superintendent Harry Bibb declined to comment directly about the council, saying he knows little about the group's activities. But he implied that the council may be redundant because the county already has a strong network of parent-teacher organizations called the Loudoun Education Alliance of Parents.
"They elect their own officers and set their own agendas," he said of the alliance.
The Rev. Lance Brown, a parent who sat with Chauncey on a committee to plan the school system's sex education program, differs sharply with Chauncey and the council in his support of education about contraception, AIDS and sexual abuse; council supporters believe such classes promote sexual behavior. But he said the group's resistance has had some benefits.
"It helped from the point of view that more people became more intentional about becoming informed about public education," he said.