Sunday, June 26, 2005

Fishback's Letter to BOE

It is hard to imagine what positive outcome could result from negotiations between the school board's lawyers and groups such as PFOX, and frankly, we hope there is no such negotiation at all -- the curriculum was scrapped, the lawsuit is moot, let's move forward. We at agree with David Fishback's sentiment, expressed in the letter reproduced below: we know that the board wants to act in the interests of our children, and we want to support them in resisting forces that want them to introduce nonscientific, bigoted, religion-based concepts into our children's classrooms. Montgomery County is being viewed by the world as a model in this situation, we must establish a precedent that stops the momentum of these radical groups right now, right here.

Mr. Fishback chaired the citizens advisory committee that developed the sex-ed curriculum that was adopted and then thrown out after the lawsuit. The following is a letter sent by him this past week to the MCPS Board of Education.
Via Facsimile and E-mail Transmission

The Honorable Patricia O'Neill,President
Montgomery County Board of Education
850 Hungerford Drive

Rockville, Maryland 20852

RE: PFOX/CRC Lawsuit

Dear Ms. O'Neill:

I learned yesterday from an attorney who has been working with PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), and has spoken with MCPS counsel, that MCPS is involved in what appear to be serious settlement negotiations with PFOX/CRC.

This was a surprise to me, since the Board's May 23 decision to scrap the proposed revised curriculum, terminate the entire Citizens Advisory Committee, and commit to dropping the four teacher resources mentioned in the district court's May 5 decision made the entire lawsuit moot. Thus, I would have thought that MCPS would have simply gone to court and sought to have the lawsuit dismissed as moot. This is what I have told people angered by the Board's responses to the lawsuit, because I had faith that MCPS, after the shock of the May 5 decision, was going stand up to the James Dobson/Jerry Falwell inspired litigation attack on our schools. The breadth and depth of outrage in Montgomery County over this lawsuit cannot be underestimated. People constantly have asked my opinion, and I have tried to assure them that the Board intends to stay the course and would not submit to extortion through litigation. I must be frank with you: Not everyone agrees with my assessment.

Because there is a closed session scheduled for this Monday's Board meeting, and I know that litigation matters are often discussed at such sessions, I could not delay in writing to you.

Since, with the elimination of teacher resource materials that expressed opinions on the wisdom of certain theological positions, the PFOX/CRC legal position is utterly untenable, it may well be that they desperately want a settlement on any terms. I certainly hope that is the case. Nevertheless, there is a danger that MCPS might agree to terms which MCPS might think are innocuous, but which would make it more difficult to proceed on the wise path it set last November and to which, I believe, it is still committed.

The Board will not be able to avoid litigation by a flawed settlement now. PFOX/CRC have made it clear that they will continue to litigate to block any discussion of sexual orientation that does not include materials repudiating the conclusions of the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and every other mainstream medical and mental health organization in this country that homosexuality is not a disease or mental disorder.

It is significant that the official policy of the American Medical Association is that it "opposes the use of 'reparative' or 'conversion' therapy that is based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based upon the a priori assumption that the patient should change his/her homosexual orientation" (AMA Policy Number H-160.991). Yet, PFOX/CRC have made it clear that they believe that, as a legal matter, the MCPS curriculum must include "the other side" of this issue. As I am sure MCPS counsel has informed you, this argument has no legal merit whatsoever.

Having seen and dealt with their arguments and tactics during the 2003-2004 deliberations of the Citizens Advisory Committee, I believe that the Board must be very careful about any settlement terms to which PFOX/CRC would agree. Our community would not accept a settlement of a lawsuit that required that creationism be taught alongside evolution in order to avoid litigation expenses. Likewise, the Board should not accept a settlement that would impose upon the health education curriculum the dubious ideas of PFOX/CRC.

I cannot imagine that the Board would agree to any such settlement; indeed, I am certain it would not. The danger, however, is that any settlement that PFOX/CRC would agree to might well have provisions that could do great damage to the Board's ability to fulfill its responsibilities. I have been trying to figure out what kind of settlement terms PFOX/CRC might try to slip in.

Based on my experience on the Citizens Advisory Committee, it has occurred to me that they might insist on naming members to the reconstituted Committee. It is imperative that the Board not accept a settlement under which it would cede to outside interest groups the final say on who should sit on this state-mandated Committee. While I agreed with the Board's decisions in the past to appoint people of a wide range of views to the Committee -- indeed, the President of CRC and a member of PFOX were members of the now- terminated Committee, along with representatives of PFLAG and the Safe Schools Coalition -- it is essential that the Board retain its authority on this point. As you are well aware, another former member consistently used filibuster tactics and worse to try to prevent the Committee from making recommendations approved of by majority, and the Board cannot cede its appointment authority to groups who have demonstrated their bad faith on these issues. (I do not say this blithely. The opponents of the Board's unanimous decision last November to pilot the curriculum revisions engaged in the similarly disreputable tactic of waiting to bring its lawsuit just before the piloting so that MCPS would have only a few days to respond to legal arguments which had not previously been presented to it.)

It is essential that MCPS stay the course and not agree to anything that would interfere with revisions that Superintendent Weast said, last November, should have been made years ago. For too long the silence in the health-education curriculum unit on sexuality gave tacit approval to the idea that there was something "sick" about not being heterosexual. For too long, students who happened to be homosexual and children from same-sex-parent families were made to feel marginalized. Because that was wrong and hurtful, the Board was right to act last November, and need not and should not agree to a settlement of this lawsuit that would interfere with its ability to stay the course. To agree to such a settlement in order to avoid litigation costs (as some have suggested might happen) would be an act that would make the people of Montgomery County ashamed.

If any proposed settlement is forthcoming from MCPS attorneys, I strongly urge that you take the time to examine it closely and to consult with stakeholders whose experience might reveal problems that may not be obvious. Indeed, I believe that simple prudence would dictate that members of the Board at least consult with former members of the Citizens Advisory Committee who may be able to point out practical pitfalls in any proposed settlement before the Board agrees to any settlement.


David S. Fishback
Olney, MD

cc: All Board members, Dr. Frieda Lacey, George Margolies


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