Montgomery County public school officials may have reached a settlement last month with two groups that sued the system over its revised sex education curriculum, but there are signs that the debate will continue to rage -- in cyberspace.
Founders of Teachthefacts.org, a community group launched in December to support a revised curriculum that was opposed by some parents, provides a "vigilance blog" for discussion of sex education issues, a petition drive in support of a comprehensive health education curriculum and links to various resources on its Internet site.
"There is a need for an organization devoted to ensuring that the health education our children receive in school is based on good science and rigorous research," said the group's president, Jim Kennedy, who has two high school-age children in public schools.
He added that many parents "have expressed their frustration with the recent lawsuit and their support for the additions to the curriculum, but they haven't known how to make their voices heard. Now that we have an established organization, we hope to be a vehicle for them."
Kennedy said the group, which has acquired nonprofit status, hopes to offer educational programs and forums.
At the same time, Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum (CRC), one of the two groups involved in the lawsuit (the other was Virginia-based Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays, or PFOX), announced it has launched a Web forum, at www.forum34.oli.us/crc, to encourage discussion of sex education issues as well as family values and parental rights. The forum also will offer updates on efforts to rewrite the sex education curriculum.
"We wanted to be able to establish a way for people to communicate with us,'' said Steve Fisher, spokesman for the nonprofit CRC. "It's not a place for anger or bitterness. We want to keep it mature and keep it moderate. It's set up so folks who agree -- or don't -- have a chance to communicate."
In the meantime, the school system will proceed with revisions to the health education curriculum. Under terms of a settlement approved by the school board last month, CRC and PFOX will have two seats on the reconstituted 15-member citizens advisory board that will work with educators to rewrite the materials.
The board initially approved revisions to the health education curriculum in November.
The changes allowed teachers to initiate discussions about homosexuality at the eighth-grade level. Prior to the revisions, teachers could only respond to student questions about homosexuality. At the 10th-grade level, students would watch a video that would include a demonstration on how to put on a condom.
CRC and PFOX filed suit to block the revised curriculum in May, charging that it failed to include all viewpoints regarding homosexuality and that it did not do enough to warn students about health risks from having sex. After a judge issued an order temporarily blocking the school from teaching the materials, Superintendent Jerry D. Weast suspended the curriculum for the rest of the school year. Now, with an agreement in place, the school system will move forward with revisions.
John Garza, a lawyer for PFOX and the CRC, said the two groups are confident that the school system will be more careful as it undertakes this next set of rewrites.
"The Board of Education recognizes that they are elected officials,'' Garza said. "With that in mind, I think they will try to appease those who have spoken out."