Thursday, March 30, 2006

Magnifying Trivialities

This morning's Gazette is reporting on a potentially troublesome issue.
The group that sued last year to block new sex education lessons in county schools says the committee reviewing the latest proposed curriculum has violated state law, and school administrators agree there may be a problem.

Michelle Turner, president of Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, said her group is concerned that the school system has run afoul of state law by not including a member of the county’s Health and Human Services Department on the committee.

‘‘When was the last time the HIV/AIDS prevention curriculum was reviewed by a MCPS citizens committee that had a representative from the local health department?” Turner asked the county school board during testimony on March 14. ‘‘[State law] indicates that the Citizens Advisory Committee can be used for the purpose of reviewing materials, but only if the committee has a representative from the local health department.” MCPS re-examines sex ed panel makeup

We talked about this on this blog a few days ago. The COMAR regulation seems clear enough, and MCPS lawyers decided that the current committee is in accordance with the law. The law says "The local school system shall use an existing committee or appoint a committee comprised of educators, representatives of the community including parents/guardians of students enrolled in a public school program, and the local health department... etc." That word "or" in the middle makes the meaning of this text pretty clear to me. If it's an existing committee then that's one thing, OR if it's a special committee it needs a public health person.
In a memo Monday to Superintendent Jerry D. Weast, Deputy Superintendent Frieda K. Lacey cited a state Department of Education Web site brought to her attention by Turner.

‘‘The Web site cited by Ms. Turner ... does appear to contradict our understanding of the requirement,” Lacey wrote. ‘‘The Web site itself is somewhat confusing and inconsistent, but there is enough ambiguity to warrant seeking further clarification.”

State law requires that school systems have an advisory committee to review family life and human development curriculum. That committee also may review HIV/AIDS prevention curriculum, or the school system may establish a separate committee to do so.

Legal interpretations of the state law are hard to find. The state Department of Education did not have anyone who could comment.

The Maryland code is on the web HERE. Under consideration is section 13A.04.18.04.B(1) and (2).

The ambiguity arises from another Maryland web site, where the law is explained, and they say: "As stated in the regulation, local school systems can use the existing system wide citizen advisory committee for both the family life and human sexuality and HIV/AIDS prevention education provided that this committee has a representative from the local health department." (Read this HERE.) The problem is, the regulation doesn't really say that.

So now the Montgomery County school district is asking the Maryland state school board to explain what they're supposed to do.

Ah, here's the crux of the argument -- it depends on what "is" is:
The Citizens Advisory Committee should not be considered a new committee because it existed before the state required a review of HIV/AIDS prevention curriculum, administrators said.

Turner does not consider the panel to be a pre-existing committee because after settling the federal lawsuit brought by CRC and Parents and Friends of Ex-gays and Gays last year, the school board replaced the entire committee with new members.

So, the law says you can use "an existing committee." Did this committee "exist" already? Some say yes, same committee, different members. Some say no, different members, different committee.

And this is why lawyers make so much money.
For now, Turner said, her group’s role is that of a watchdog.

‘‘I wouldn’t go so far as saying a lawsuit is anywhere near in the future,” she said. ‘‘... Our only plan right now is to make sure that the system is aware that we know what the laws are, what the guidelines are and to make sure that it is made a public issue whenever necessary, whenever state law is not being followed.”

That's one way of putting it. I would like to play with that "watchdog" thing a little bit, like, what kind of dog they really are, or what that dog is doing to the county's leg, but ... I won't go there.

Compounding this situation is the fact that last year's settlement agreement between MCPS and the anti-MCPS suers stipulated that the citizens advisory committee could not have more than fifteen members. There are fifteen members already, so one would have to go, if a public health person was necessary.

The fact is, as everyone involved understands, the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum have failed to stop progress on the development of a new curriculum. Oh, they slowed it down with their little lawsuit, but it's up and walking again. So now, the CRC has deteriorated to, it appears, three or four people, no public support, the dream of a coup smashed, there's nothing for them to do but pick at MCPS for not following some rule or another.

They have a whole list of little rules that they think are not being followed, you can expect more of this sort of thing. It doesn't matter to them, of course, that there's a public health person on the committee. Apparently, nobody has ever questioned this regulation before. Nobody knows the answer to this question, because it is so trivial that no one has ever thought about it. The committee right now has a bunch of physicians on it, and the curriculum is being developed largely by a team of physicians -- it isn't like MCPS is failing to pay attention to medical experts.

CRC is not trying to make a better curriculum, they are purely trying to undermine the development of anything. Everybody in this game knows that.


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