- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 20, 2004

Montgomery County, Md., is a blue county.The county went 66-33 for Sen. John Kerry in the recent election. So when the Montgomery County School Board rubber-stamped a set of committee recommendations expanding sexual education to include condom demonstrations and left-of-center views on homosexuality, I suspect board members foresaw little parental resistance.

Surprise. After two years of stonewalling efforts of parents to register their views, the school board may end up facing voters in a recall effort. Rumor has it the school board thinks the whole thing will blow over. However, a glance at the Web site Recallmontgomeryschoolboard.com provides evidence the parents are serious. Given such strong reaction on values, the board may need to glean some lessons of the last election.

Maryland is hardly a fly-over state, but there are rural and mainstream folk in Montgomery County who are plenty incensed at the kinds of changes envisioned for sex education. For instance, in a newly approved film, “Hope is Not a Method,” a teen girl is shown skillfully placing a condom over a cucumber. However, this is not an episode of “Veggie Tales Gone Wild.” Students are also treated to a discussion of the virtues of fruit-flavored condoms. In the new curriculum, students are told homosexual experimentation may be normal.

Some parents are not amused. According to articles in both The Washington Post and The Washington Times, school board meetings have been peppered with protesting parents. According to a Jon Ward article in The Times (Nov. 11, page B1), Tim Simpson, pastor and parent of a high-school student, said school officials “have definitely stepped over the line in assuming the majority of parents in this county accept this.”

For their part, school-board members seem perplexed and annoyed at such spasms of moral outrage. According to The Times, Patricia O’Neill, board vice president huffed: “There are plenty of opportunities for people who choose to be informed to participate on the committee.” The committee she speaks of is the Citizens’ Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development. This panel has met periodically during the last two years at the direction of the school board to improve the school’s health education. The recommendations at issue are largely this panel’s work.

Given the controversy generated by the Citizen’s Advisory Committee, the school board should not be surprised parents are upset now. Throughout its two years of working on the sexuality materials, the committee refused to include any professional resources promoting abstinence only or presenting a balanced view of homosexuality.

Parents did go to those meetings and complain. Three members resigned in protest. Letters to the editor were published. For a previous column, I called the school district’s health education coordinator, Russ Henke, and asked why the committee excluded peer-reviewed research that provided diverse views on sexual orientation. He said the school board would be able to reverse any recommendations it felt inappropriate. Apparently, the school board has no interest in doing so.

This is a brewing controversy worth watching. Democrats’ postelection ruminating has included ruing the perception they are out-of-touch with mainstream American “values voters.” Many Democrats, including Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman have suggested the party moderate its social issues positions.

Will this blue county shift toward the moral center on sexuality education? The school board seems puzzled by the concern of mainstream parents. Parents seem to feel the board’s actions are examples of more cultural erosion in their own back yard.

The school board could just wait this out and hope the parents go away. Or they could learn some lessons from current events.

WARREN THROCKMORTON

Associate professor of psychology

College counseling director

Grove City College, Pa.

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