- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 6, 2005

Parents and community members will have more representation than special-interest groups on an advisory panel that will help design a new sex-education curriculum in Montgomery County.

The county school board yesterday approved preliminary plans to give eight seats on the 15-member panel to parents and community members and seven to groups based in the county.

Board President Patricia O’Neill had proposed that groups be given nine spots, but board member Steve Abrams proposed the amendment to give an advantage to residents. The board approved the measure unanimously.

“I wanted to make sure the process was clean as we went forward,” Mr. Abrams said. “I wanted to make sure we didn’t play any games with it.”

The previous 27-member advisory panel was dissolved in May after a federal judge ruled that the curriculum it had approved was one-sided in its presentation of homosexuality and biased against certain religious beliefs.

However, several seats on that panel were unfilled, and 14 slots were filled by representatives of special-interest groups.

The school board yesterday also took steps to avert more litigation on the sex-education course by reversing a demand that groups with a guaranteed seat on the panel submit three nominees, from which the school system would pick the representative.

The board voted to allow groups such as Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum (CRC) and Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX), both of whom have a guaranteed seat on the panel, to submit one nominee and two “alternates.”

The board voted to reserve a third guaranteed seat for a high school student government member.

One of the at-large community spots also will be reserved for a student.

Nominees will be disqualified if they do not live in Montgomery County, if they have served on any previous advisory committee for family life and human development, or if their morality can be questioned.

Attorneys for the school system and for CRC and PFOX quarreled last week over how the groups’ representatives would be chosen.

PFOX last week nominated Peter Sprigg, a county resident and vice president for policy at the Family Research Council (FRC).

CRC nominated Henrietta Brown, who served on the previous panel. CRC President Michelle Turner said the group likely will nominate Ruth Jacobs, an infectious diseases specialist, to replace Mrs. Brown.

The panel will convene in September, but schools Superintendent Jerry D. Weast, who has taken a central role in composing the new curriculum, said he already is moving forward with a redesign of the curriculum.

“What’s at issue here, one of the many things at issue, is viewpoint curriculum. And I think there’s a very slippery slope you fall into when you start getting into this viewpoint curriculum,” he said.

“We will not be writing a curriculum that encompasses every viewpoint that exists out there,” Mr. Weast said. “This debate is not nationwide. It’s worldwide.”

The board will vote July 27 on final approval for the new advisory panel. It also will choose four other groups that will receive seats on the panel.

Board member Valerie Ervin mentioned as a possible participant Teachthefacts.org, a parents group that formed to oppose CRC. Mrs. O’Neill suggested County Council of PTAs and the County Health and Human Services Department as participants.

“I’ve seen a lot of lobbying coming my way via faxes and e-mails,” Mrs. O’Neill said. “We’re going to see an awful lot of lobbying for organizations, against organizations.”

Two members of the Maryland chapter of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL) and one member of Planned Parenthood Federation of America spoke yesterday during public comments, urging the board to include someone from a group “that specifically specializes in preventing [sexually transmitted infections] and unintended pregnancy.”

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