Two community organizations that sued the Montgomery County public school system over its sex education curriculum are embroiled in another dispute, this time over who gets to serve on a citizen advisory panel.
The groups had both argued that changes once approved by the school board showed insufficient respect for some parents' values. Now the board is at odds with the two groups over procedures for picking members of the panel that would advise on a new curriculum.
The school board had been set last night to make appointments to the 15-member citizens committee that would work alongside school officials on the new curriculum. But board President Patricia O'Neill (Bethesda-Chevy Chase) announced that the board was postponing action until Oct. 24 because Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum (CRC) and Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX) had not followed the rules. The board had asked that organizations that wanted a seat on the reconstituted advisory board nominate three people. The board then would choose one from the three to serve on the committee.
The board also said that people who previously served on the committee were not eligible to serve again.
But Michelle Turner, a parent and president of CRC, which submitted one nominee, said the board's request violates the terms of a settlement the two sides signed in June. Turner said the agreement allows CRC and PFOX -- not the board -- to designate whom they wish to serve on the advisory committee.
"We have a signed settlement that we would each be able to choose our representative," Turner said. "For them to change the rules -- what kind of ethical practice is that?"
She said the new conditions don't apply to their representatives because the board made the changes after the two sides signed the agreement. A representative for PFOX could not be reached for comment.
O'Neill said that under the terms of the settlement, the board retains the right to determine the process for choosing committee members. "We're being gracious and generous" by extending the deadline, O'Neill said, noting that the board could have moved forward with the appointments last night.
The school board approved changes to the health education curriculum in November. The new materials included a video to be shown to 10th-graders about the proper way to put on a condom. It also allowed teachers at the eighth-grade level to initiate discussions about homosexuality. Previously, teachers could only talk about homosexuality if students asked them questions.
In May, CRC and PFOX sued in federal court. They said the revisions to the health education curriculum were biased against certain religions, failed to do enough to stress abstinence and did not offer competing viewpoints on homosexuality.
Initially, Weast and the school board stood by the revised curriculum, but after a federal court judge sided with CRC and PFOX and issued a temporary injunction barring the school system from teaching the new materials, Weast scrapped the materials and announced that educators would write a new curriculum. The two sides settled their lawsuit in June. As part of the agreement, CRC and PFOX were each given a seat on the advisory board. The school system also agreed to pay the groups' $36,000 in legal fees.
For now, CRC is not budging, and Turner said the group would not submit additional names. It is unclear, however, whether CRC's nominee, Retta Brown, will be permitted to serve because she was a part of the original committee that worked with Montgomery educators on the previous curriculum. O'Neill said the board recognizes that CRC and PFOX are entitled to seats under the terms of their agreement, but if the two groups decline to follow the rules, their seats might go unfilled.
More than 180 residents applied for a seat on the advisory board -- the most of any school system committee. But school board officials declined to release information -- even the names -- of those who applied for a seat on the public board, saying it was to protect their privacy.