Friday, January 05, 2007

... And The Post

Daniel DeVise at the Washington Post is following the story. Excerpts:
Montgomery County school officials previewed new middle and high school lesson plans yesterday on sexual orientation and condom use, topics that could refuel the debate on how much the county's teenagers need to know about homosexuality and premarital sex.

The lessons -- which have come under more dispute than any other piece of the county schools curriculum -- represent an attempt at compromise among the school system and polarized community groups that have fought bitterly about the merits of taking lessons on sexuality beyond heterosexuality. Sex-Ed Plan Could Revive Heated Debate From 2005

Yeah, well, the state of Maryland says the schools have to take it beyond heterosexuality, MCPS is just following the law here.
School board members will consider the new sex education curriculum Tuesday at what promises to be a well-attended meeting. Defenders of the curriculum expect the community groups that sued in 2005 to halt the new sex-ed curriculum to do so again. But group leaders said yesterday that they would give the school board a chance to act before taking any steps.

"I really think Montgomery County schools can do better," said Ruth Jacobs, an infectious-disease specialist and member of Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, which, along with Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays, sued to block the first incarnation of the curriculum.

Ah, so nice, they'll give the school board a chance.

Tuesday the board will vote to either accept or reject these new curricula. I guess that's what they mean. If the school board rejects the material, the suers will stifle their desire to go to court.
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 state requires teaching about "sexual variation." MCPS asked a group of experts to determine what that means, and they decided it mostly meant "sexual orientation."
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.

If you've got to tell the story in two paragraphs, I guess that's it. Mmm, if I were writing this, I woulda said "A handful of whiners" instead of "critics," I think. And I would've included some of the humorous anecdotes about tricks the CRC tried that backfired on them. But, for two paragraphs, there ya go.
With the help of medical experts, school officials have spent more than a year crafting the curriculum. It was reviewed by a citizens committee that included representatives from all parties to the suit. The document incorporated 69 of 83 changes recommended by the committee. But neither side is completely satisfied.

There's one part of me that understands, they couldn't include everything. On the other hand, there's part of me that wonders if some decisions weren't made for the wrong reasons.
A majority of committee members recommended that the lessons include emphatic statements that homosexuality is not a disease or mental illness and that sexuality is not a choice, beliefs supported by mainstream medical groups. School officials decided such statements did not fit the "objectives for the lesson," according to internal school system documents.

"I suspect that they're shying away from controversy here," said Jim Kennedy, a member of the citizens committee and, a group of Montgomery parents and their supporters pushing for broader lessons.

David Fishback, also a member of that group, noted that every successful Montgomery school board candidate last fall favored teaching that sexuality is not a choice. "They're going to have to decide whether to follow their campaign pledge," he said.

OK, well, the board will discuss this on Tuesday, and decide.

In the meantime, they do have the list of the committee's suggestions in front of them. Unfortunately, the list doesn't include the votes on each item, so they may not realize how strongly the committee felt about some of them.

This will be a chance for the new board -- and I don't mean just the new members, but the new board as a reorganized entity -- to show the community what it stands for. Will they approve the lessons as prepared, or will they actively participate in making some of the harder decisions, decisions that career MCPS staff may not feel empowered to make?

The question is, will they take this the extra inch?

We'll know Tuesday.


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