Wednesday, March 22, 2006

MCPS Stands Up For Itself

There's been a eddy swirling under the surface around the development of the HIV/AIDS part of the Montgomery County Public Schools' health curriculum.

The Citizens Advisory Committee for Family Health and Human Development was charged with evaluating new sections of the sex-ed curriculum having to do with sexual variation, and sections of the health curriculum dealing with HIV/AIDS. Well, there are a lot of pediatricians, a lot of MDs, on that committee, so it made sense.

Last week Michelle Turner, President of the anti-MCPS Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, gave a presentation at the Board of Education's public comments about the legality of having the citizens committee handle the HIV/AIDS section. (In her comments, "COMAR" refers to Maryland State law.)

Amid the whining about how mistreated the CRC is, she said:
COMAR indicates that the Citizens Advisory Committee [CAC] can be used for the purpose of reviewing materials but only if the committee has a representative from the local health department. The present Citizens Advisory Committee does not meet this requirement. The present committee cannot consider curriculum material that deals with HIV/AIDS education even though Dr. Lacy indicated that this committee will be doing just that.

She then quoted the relevant section of COMAR, which said, in part:
(1) The local school system shall maintain a curriculum in HIV/AIDS prevention education in consultation with the local health department and may use resources available from the State Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the State Department of Education.

(2) 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, which shall examine all instructional materials proposed for use in HIV/AIDS prevention education curriculum. Recommendations from this committee shall be submitted to the local superintendent of schools and the local board of education for final action. All aspects of the curriculum shall be reviewed by the committee at least annually to assure that it is accurate and current.

There's more, this is the relevant part.

I'm no lawyer, but this seems pretty clear. Number Two says the local district "shall use an existing committee OR appoint a committee comprised of blah blah blah."

I did hear rumors after her talk that some MCPS staff were concerned about this. It really would be a stupid way to screw up, after all the district has gone through.

This week, a memo was issued by Dr. Frieda K. Lacey, the Deputy Superintendent, to Superintendent Jerry Weast. She explained that she had consulted with the MCPS attorney, Judith Bresler, and they had a response. The memo is too much to reproduce here in its entirety, but there is a Q-and-A section that sums it up.
Q: Does COMAR require consultation with the local health department in the development of HIV/AIDS prevention curriculum?
A: Yes. We have a long-standing collaborative relationship with professional staff of the Montgomery Ccounty Health Department. The department's personnel include individuals with expertise in school health, wellness, communicable disease control and prevention, including HIV/AIDS, and other specialties. They have consulted with school system staff in a number of areas. In fact, the department reviewed materials prepared for teacher training on HIV/AIDS prevention last fall. In addition, a health department representative is a member of the curriculum advisory committee for health education. We will continue to consult with the department as we develop updates and revisions to the health education curriculum.

Q: Does COMAR require the designation of a public committee to examine all instructional materials proposed for HIV/AIDS education to conduct an annual review of the HIV/AIDS curiculum?
A: Yes. The regulation provides a choice using "an existing committee" or appointing "a committee comprised of ...[individuals from certain groups, including the local health dept]." For years, the existing committee for MCPS has been the Citizens Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development, which is appointed under other similar COMAR provisions requiring community involvement. Expectations are that the designation will continue with the current committee, and this was discussed with the committee's chair, Dr. Carol Plotsky, when she met last fall with then Board President Patricia B. O'Neill, Board Staff Director George Margolies, and the superintendent's liaison to the committee, Mr. Brian J. Porter, chief of staff. The continued designation facilitates the process for two reasons. First, the advisory committee already will be reviewing curriculum and instructional materials on disease prevention and control, which includes HIV/AIDS. In fact, the committee will be reviewing the newly developed curriculum framework, which includes HIV/AIDS components, at its next meeting. Second, the membership of the current committee includes several physicians and public health professionals, including those with expertise in HIV/AIDS.

Q: Is it required that a health department representative be on the committee?
A: No. The COMAR requirement offers a choice. If a new committee were appointed, it would need to include a health dept rep. However this is not specified for an existing committee. In the past, the Citizens Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development has included health department staff as members. While the placement of a health department representative on the existing committee would be welcome, it is not necessary, given the requirement to maintain an HIV/AIDS curriculum in consultation with the health dept. The existing committee already includes members with public health expertise.

One thing to mention is that the legal settlement agreement between MCPS and the suers states that the citizens committee can have a maximum of 15 members, which it has now. So to place public health person on the committee, a current member would have to leave.

So that's where this sits at the moment.

The world is in the throes of an AIDS epidemic. Every year there are changes -- statistical changes to the target population, medical changes in terms of treatments and considerations, it's a new disease, without a cure, and there is a lot to learn about managing it. So the school district will have regular reviews of their curriculum: a good idea.

You might wonder why the CRC would want to challenge the school district on this. I can think of two theories.

First, they might be worried about the quality of the HIV/AIDS curriculum. Perhaps they are so concerned about AIDS victims that they want to make sure the school district gets the very best advice, and that MCPS doesn't slack off and fall short of the strict letter of the law.

A second theory is that the CRC wants to continue to drag the whole process down, that they don't want to talk about AIDS in class because it will mean possible discussion of condoms, and possible mention of anal sex, and it just might mean treating gay AIDS patients as human beings, rather than sinners who are being punished for their evil ways, as some people's "family values" hold.

In either case, it appears they will have a fight on their hands. I don't see the school district backing down on this.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

---“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.”---

March 22, 2006 1:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Precious said,.... "local school systems can use....

Does "can" mean "have to..."

Of course not...


March 22, 2006 1:55 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

Precious -- that's what that article says about COMAR, but they actually include the text of the regulation, and it doesn't say that. I think for legal purposes MCPS will be expected to follow the actual wording of the law, not some web site's explanation of what it means.

I think MCPS is pretty confident about this, and it does look clear to me. Don't be distracted by what somebody says it says, read what it says.


March 22, 2006 1:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Precious asked on CRC Forum today:

Why would a homosexual couple feel uncomfortable "alongside an "ex-gay" viewpoint"? Yet this same homosexual couple doesn't mind if a heterosexual couple would be uncomfortable alongside a homosexual affirming viewpoint. What is the difference?


Well Duh...There are no exgays.


March 22, 2006 2:45 PM  
Blogger andrea said...

I think the wording is wrong, freebird. Retta meant to say alongside "the sinful,scary homosexual viewpoint". Retta-Homosexuals exist- they are- because you don't believe it doesn't make it any more real. In fact, especially because you don't believe it.

March 22, 2006 3:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Always thought the composition of the CAC doesn't really match the intention of the state legislature. Wonder what else will turn up before it's all over.

March 22, 2006 5:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

anonymous said...Always thought the composition of the CAC doesn't really match the intention of the state legislature. Wonder what else will turn up before it's all over.


Yeah yeah keep saying it to see if you can fool others to believe that nonsense Wyatt.

Remember CRC/PFOX did the dirty to upset the former CAC apple cart and now all of you have to live with that result. Less members and MCPS in total control.


March 22, 2006 5:58 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

Anon said Always thought the composition of the CAC doesn't really match the intention of the state legislature. Wonder what else will turn up before it's all over.

Look, Anon, you must know, this isn't the section that defines the CAC.

The CAC section of COMAR, 13A.04.18.03.D(1), says "A citizen advisory committee broadly representing the views of the community shall consult with these educators in developing, implementing, and evaluating the program. Membership may represent groups such as parents/ guardians, students, legislators, members of community organizations, clergy, physicians, and members of professional and civic organizations."

That doesn't mean the committee has to look like your neighborhood, it's not ordinary people on the committee, it's involved people. Our current CAC, as well as the previous one, match the intention of the legislature perfectly.


March 22, 2006 8:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"That doesn't mean the committee has to look like your neighborhood, it's not ordinary people on the committee, it's involved people."

I'm not sure if you're right here. I think "broadly represent" meant the views of ordinary citizens.

March 22, 2006 8:58 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

... "parents/ guardians, students, legislators, members of community organizations, clergy, physicians, and members of professional and civic organizations.." I wouldn't say that sounds like exactly ordinary run-of-the-mill people somehow.


March 22, 2006 9:38 PM  

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