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Question of the Day
D.C. schools officials are expected to hold public hearings on proposed guidelines for sex-education classes that call for teaching students about homosexuality.
Natalie Williams, a spokeswoman for the D.C. State Board of Education and its president, Robert C. Bobb, said Mr. Bobb "is in support of public hearings and hopes that the residents and students of D.C. public schools will come out and let their voices be heard on this issue."
Miss Williams also said State Superintendent of Education Deborah Gist would welcome a public hearing on the proposals.
"The health standards [are] a huge issue," Miss Williams said. "We should hear the voice of the community before the board makes a decision and certainly receive as large a range of opinions as we possibly can."
The school board, which was reduced to a largely advisory role under Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's schools takeover plan, still has responsibility for approving the curriculum.
Board member William Lockridge said that a hearing would benefit the community because "all parents are going to be concerned with what" their children are being taught.
"I would be concerned enough to ... at least hold a hearing and ask parents to respond to any of the items they would have concerns with," said Mr. Lockridge, who represents Wards 7 and 8 on the school board.
The proposed guidelines for students in pre-kindergarten through the 10th grade were developed by the staff of former schools Superintendent Clifford B. Janey after a request by the school board last year. Because the guidelines have not been approved, officials say it is too soon to tell how they would be integrated into classroom lesson plans.
John Stokes, a spokesman for Miss Gist, said schools officials received little feedback during a period for public comment that ended Aug. 2 on the guidelines, which were posted online at www.k12.dc.us/offices/oas/curriculumandinstruction/draftstandards.htm.
The guidelines suggest that eighth-grade students be taught the definition of sexual orientation "using correct terminology" and learn that some people "may begin to feel romantically and/or sexually attracted to people of a different gender and/or to people of the same gender."
The guidelines also say that sixth-grade students should be taught that "people, regardless of biological sex, gender, ability, sexual orientation, gender identity and culture, have sexual feelings and the need for love, affection and physical intimacy."
The standards would be used to develop a health curriculum for D.C. public school students, if given final approval by the school board this fall. They also address topics including HIV and AIDS, nutrition and drug awareness.
The Rev. Anthony Evans, president of the D.C.-based National Black Church Initiative — a coalition of 16,000 black and Hispanic churches, including 800 churches in the District — said he has concerns about the curriculum's age appropriateness.
"If they're talking about ... homosexuality at the sixth-grade level, I would not endorse that," Mr. Evans said. "I would say ninth grade on up. And I would be very, very concerned about how that is taught, who that is taught by and what perspective that is taught from. There are some major concerns here."
Mr. Evans said school officials should have a public hearing on the standards, and went as far as to say he would support a public referendum on the proposed guidelines if needed.
But Adam Tenner, executive director of Metro TeenAIDS — an organization that serves HIV-infected youths and their families in the District — said the standards were age-appropriate and stressed the importance of educating students on topics such as HIV and AIDS.
Roughly one out of every 100 people ages 13 to 24 in the District has HIV or AIDS, according to an HIV prevention initiative plan put together by the Fenty administration.
"Metro TeenAIDS is supportive of the current draft" of the standards, Mr. Tenner said. "Going in to our analysis, we were looking to see that the standards were based on age-appropriate, medically accurate, comprehensive sex education that stresses abstinence and includes information about contraception."
In Montgomery County, the school board approved a revised curriculum that teaches about homosexuality and condom use, and the Maryland State Board of Education denied requests to stop the lessons.
The curriculum is slated to be taught in all county middle and high schools this fall, although opponents last month filed an administrative appeal seeking to reverse the state board's decision.
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