The Montgomery County School Board is slated to make appointments on Tuesday to the citizens advisory committee that will work with staff on revisions to the health education curriculum tossed out last May.
More than 175 county residents applied to sit on the 15-member board, but the identity of the applicants will remain a mystery, it seems. The school system has declined to release the names of prospective committee members or the applications that detail their reasons for wanting to be a part of the public advisory group. Officials say the privacy of citizens who apply for a spot on a public board trumps the public's right to know who they are and why they want to serve.
Board members will meet in closed session to go over the applications and will vote on their choices in open session.
What is known about the prospective committee is that two seats have been set aside for representatives from the groups that filed a lawsuit against the school system -- Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, and Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays. Two other spots will be reserved for student representatives. In addition, representatives from four community groups will have seats at the table, leaving seven seats for citizens at large.
The previous curriculum, which allowed teacher-initiated discussions about homosexuality at the eighth-grade level and the screening of a video on condom use in the 10th grade, drew criticism from some members of the community who felt that it was not balanced and that its teacher resource materials favored the beliefs of some religious denominations over others.
Hurricane Katrina Victims
Students at Montgomery County Public Schools have certainly done their part to help out the victims of Hurricane Katrina. They've held concerts and dance-a-thons, collected coins and sold pizza and doughnuts -- all in hopes of helping those left with very little after one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history.
Last week, Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) stopped by Thomas W. Pyle Middle School to pick up a check for $27,000. Students at the Bethesda-area campus raised the money through individual donations -- quarters, dollars and other small bills. Principal Michael Zarchin said kids who made donations were given tickets to the school's first dance of the year. And while not all kids were interested in dancing, they were definitely interested in doing more for Louisiana's less fortunate. The students raised an additional $1,000 for the Humane Society to help animal victims of Katrina.
Across town, students at James Hubert Blake High School held a jazz concert that raised more than $24,000 to benefit the Red Cross. New Orleans has a special place in the hearts of student musicians at the Silver Spring campus; last January, Blake students performed in New Orleans as part of the Sugar Bowl festivities.
These are not the only campuses that have raised money to benefit the victims of Hurricane Katrina. From Damascus to Potomac, just about every Montgomery County public school has contributed.
More than 170 Louisiana and Texas students are now enrolled in Montgomery County public schools.
Parents, Students Speak
At School Board Meeting
Community members jammed the recent School Board meeting to voice support for expanding outreach services to families of students who do not speak English as their primary language. Parents and students carried signs written in Korean, Spanish, Vietnamese, Mandarin and Russian -- minus English translation -- to convey to board members what it is like to see a language but not be able to read it. Several members of the community also testified in Spanish during the public comment portion of the meeting.
Their remarks raised an interesting question. Since not all the board members understand Spanish, could they understand the relevance of what was being said?
"A number of residents signed up to testify at the outset of the board meeting," Tom Perez, president of the Montgomery County Council, wrote to board members after the Sept. 26 meeting, "including two monolingual MCPS parents who wanted to testify about the importance of providing additional assistance to MCPS students and parents. According to my staff member and advocates who attended the meeting, no qualified interpreters were present to translate their testimony."
Perez continued: "I know you are concerned about the issues they are raising, and I have no doubt about your commitment to ensuring equal access for MCPS students and parents with limited English proficiency. However, if the facts as alleged are accurate, this may lead some community members understandably to question the board's commitment to meaningful engagement of immigrant communities."
In a letter to Perez, board President Patricia O'Neill (Bethesda-Chevy Chase) wrote that a complete translation of each speaker's testimony was made available to board members the next day and was entered into the official meeting record. She wrote that while there were translation services available for those who requested them at the meeting, one of the reasons the board did not request simultaneous translation during pubic testimony was, in part, because members did not realize that the speakers planned to offer their remarks in Spanish. Nevertheless, O'Neill said, board office staff will review the procedures on interpretation services in future instances.