Tuesday, July 5, 2005

Citizens groups are feuding with Montgomery County Public Schools officials over how to appoint members to an advisory panel that will help create a new sex-education curriculum.

The groups — Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX) and Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum (CRC) — have each nominated one person to represent their interests on the panel.

But the schools’ attorney has told the groups that they must submit a list of three nominees, and the school board will pick whom it wants. A resolution drafted by board President Patricia O’Neil, a Democrat, and scheduled for a vote tomorrow includes the provision.

PFOX and CRC are threatening to go back to court, after having signed an agreement with schools officials last week that ended the groups’ previous lawsuit against the school system and guaranteed them two seats on the 15-member panel. Such a move could further delay the creation and implementation of the county’s sex-education course.

In May, a federal judge supported the groups’ lawsuit, and schools officials subsequently scrapped a curriculum that promoted homosexuality and discriminated against certain religious beliefs, according to the judge’s ruling.

“One of the deal-breaking items for our clients was the ability to designate one representative on behalf of each client,” Rena Lindevaldsen, the attorney for PFOX and CRC, said in a June 29 letter to schools’ attorney Jonathan Franklin.

PFOX has nominated Peter Sprigg, vice president for policy at the Family Research Council (FRC) and director of the Center for Marriage and Family Studies. His name was submitted to the school board Wednesday night. He is a Montgomery County resident and parent.

Mr. Sprigg is the author of the FRC-published booklet “Getting It Straight: What the Research Shows about Homosexuality” and the book “Outrage: How Gay Activists and Liberal Judges Are Trashing Democracy to Redefine Marriage,” published by Regnery Publishing in August.

CRC submitted the name of its nominee, Henrietta Brown, to the school board Thursday night.

Mrs. Brown, who served on the last citizens committee, would be prohibited from serving again under Mrs. O’Neil’s resolution, which states that no member of the previous committee can serve on the new one.

In her letter, Ms. Lindevaldsen said PFOX and CRC need to “place individuals on the [citizens advisory committee] who are well-versed in the subject matter and willing to speak out on the issue even though they are likely to be offering a viewpoint not accepted by the majority of the CAC members.”

“We insisted on language giving our clients control over who would fill those two seats,” she wrote.

Ms. Lindevaldsen noted that she agreed to change language in the pact that had said PFOX and CRC would “designate” their members to say they would submit “nominees.” But she said she did that only “given that the board is the entity that must approve the nominee.”

Mr. Franklin responded with a letter Wednesday.

“No organization has the absolute right to designate individual members of the CAC,” he wrote. “This is an MCPS committee and the board cannot and will not simply accept carte blanche whomever an organization nominates.”

Schools staff director George Margolies said the agreement signed by PFOX and CRC is subject to a school board policy that states: “In cases where the board has determined membership on a committee will be by organization, the organization will be requested to submit nominees for vacancies. However, the final selection of membership remains the responsibility of the board.”

Ms. Lindevaldsen said she had read the policy before signing the agreement, but noted that during negotiations with schools officials, it was “very clear from all of our communications that we intended to nominate one specific person to the committee.”

If the school system does not relent, PFOX and CRC are prepared to go back to court, where they will argue using documentation of communications with schools officials, Ms. Lindevaldsen said.

In addition, PFOX and CRC have documentation of previous incidences in which schools officials asked groups to submit only one nominee for the panel.

“To change course now would be contrary to what they’ve done in the past,” Ms. Lindevaldsen said.

The school board will begin reconstituting the advisory panel tomorrow. Mrs. O’Neil’s resolution recommends that nine groups have a representative on the committee, and that the remaining six spots be filled by one high school student and five parents or community members.

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