Montgomery County Approves Sex Eduction Plan

By Christine Cupaiuolo — January 11, 2007

The Montgomery County (Md.) Board of Education has approved a sex-education plan for students in eighth and 10th grades, reports the Washington Post. Much to the frustration of opponents, it addresses homosexuality without identifying it as morally wrong — and lawsuits may follow.

The WP’s Daniel de Vise writes that the lessons teach “what it means to be homosexual but say little about how people become gay, resisting pressure from a divided community to define homosexuality as nature or nurture, right or wrong.”

Approved by a unanimous vote, the lessons mark the first time Montgomery schools will introduce the topics of sexual orientation and homosexuality. The materials, including a new 10th-grade condom-demonstration DVD, will be field-tested in a handful of middle and high schools in spring, barring intervention by the courts.

Some school board members said they expect a lawsuit from the same community groups that persuaded a federal judge to halt a version of the curriculum in spring 2005. […]

“I believe we will be sued. That’s okay. . . . Bring it on,” said board member Sharon W. Cox (At Large).

Leaders of the protest groups said yesterday that they would consider their legal options and signaled that they have the same objection to the new curriculum as to the old one: They say it offers one viewpoint, favorable toward homosexuality, anal sex and premarital sex. Observers on both sides have predicted that “viewpoint neutrality,” or lack thereof, would eventually form the basis of a lawsuit.

More frustrating to this observer is that the board didn’t go far enough in incorporating language in support of gay, lesbian and transgender students. But the board was, understandably, under a great deal of pressure to stick to agreed-upon language.

It’s been a fascinating story to track. Montgomery County includes a number of upscale communities bordering Washington, D.C.; not the first place that comes to mind for lawsuits and multi-year delays over discussing sexual orientation.

Both sides were organized: Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, along with Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays, sued to prevent implementation of the first version of the curriculum, which was introduced in 2004. On the other side, Montgomery County parents and their supporters formed Teach the Facts.

A summary of past events is provided in a related story de Vise wrote earlier this month:

The lessons, approved by the county school board in fall 2004, introduce sexual orientation topics to eighth- and 10th-graders and correct condom use to 10th-graders. Board members decided to add a discussion of homosexuality, which Montgomery teachers had been barred from broaching except in response to students’ questions.

The lessons, which take place during health class, consist of two 45-minute sessions in grade eight and three sessions in grade 10.

Parents organized against the curriculum and an eight-minute condom demonstration video, in which a young health educator unrolls a condom onto a cucumber. Critics said that the lessons tacitly encouraged premarital sex and homosexuality and failed to voice varied views, such as that sexual orientation is a choice or that anal intercourse can pose particular medical risks.

In 2005, the citizens groups sued. In May of that year, U.S. District Judge Alexander Williams Jr. issued a temporary restraining order, opining that the curriculum “presents only one view on the subject — that homosexuality is a natural and morally correct lifestyle — to the exclusion of other perspectives.” The litigants reached an agreement in June 2005, and the school board agreed not to broach religious beliefs in the revised lessons.

The fact that the school board vote this week was unanimous is a good sign it’s ready for a fight.

The 8-0 vote “sends a message that we stand firm on the balanced approach that we have taken with these revisions,” said Board of Education President Nancy Navarro.

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