The state Department of Education has ruled that Loudoun County schools must allow parents to withdraw their children from any Family Life Education class, including courses that avoid sensitive issues about sex.

In a letter released yesterday, the department agreed with Loudoun parents who complained that the county's Family Life Education policy contradicted state regulations by restricting parents' rights.

The system's policy says parents can remove their children only from classes that deal directly with sensitive issues such as sexual organs or inappropriate touch.

"I am of the opinion that parents would have to have the latitude to opt their children out of any component of the program," state Superintendent Joseph Spagnolo Jr. said in the letter to Loudoun Superintendent David N. Thomas.

Loudoun officials said they implemented the restrictive policy this year to avoid unnecessary repetition of subjects, such as family respect or friendship, which all students would take even without a Family Life Education program. Thomas asked Spagnolo several weeks ago for a ruling on the policy.

Thomas contends it is impractical for teachers to make arrangements for students to leave uncontroversial Family Life classes. About 12,000 Loudoun students in grades K-10 take the courses, which cover issues from nutrition to masturbation. Last year, 845 students opted out of some or all of the classes.

Harry Bibb, an assistant superintendent, said the district must either remove less sensitive classes from the curriculum or allow parents to withdraw children from any classes that fall under the Family Life Education title. "There will be a change," he said.

A group of parents who call themselves the Loudoun Educational Resource Council and promote "traditional education" opposed the policy, saying parents should have the right to decide what type of education their children receive.