Sunday, May 1, 2005

Montgomery County Public Schools have barred parents from sitting in on classes in which a new sex-education curriculum will be taught, despite an official schools policy that encourages parents to visit their children’s classrooms.

The policy states that parents are welcome to visit their child’s classroom with permission from school administrators. The policy says, “Classroom visits and conferences by parents and other persons in the school community are encouraged.”

Not this time.

Brian Edwards, a county schools spokesman, said the parents’ presence at the sex-ed classes would have a “chilling effect on the educational process.”

“If you’re in a classroom and you want to have a frank discussion among your peers, with whom you’ve developed trust, and you’re going to have Johnny Smith’s mother sitting in the corner, you’re not going to be as honest,” he said.

Parents who are concerned about the new curriculum because they think it favors a homosexual agenda and encourages promiscuity said keeping them out of the classroom when the new sex-ed curriculum is being taught is “a big mistake.”

“There isn’t anything in the school curriculum that parents should not be able to go and hear for themselves,” said Michelle Turner, president of Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum (CRC). “If the school feels that parents shouldn’t be in the classroom, then that’s a red flag for parents.”

Russ Henke, the county’s health education coordinator, said parents are usually shut out of classrooms.

“There are particular times of the year, during National Education Week, that we invite the parents in, but it’s not something we have as far as a general open classroom,” he said.

In November, the county school board voted unanimously to approve a tryout of the new curriculum in three high schools and three middle schools.

The curriculum, which was slightly revised last month, defines one’s sexual identity as including gender identity, which is “a person’s internal sense of knowing whether he or she is male or female.” The instruction also includes the statement that “most experts in the field have concluded that sexual orientation is not a choice.”

Also, households with same-sex parents are identified as one type of nine families. Next to that listing, a new phrase has been inserted as instruction to teachers — not students. It reads in parentheses: “This should not be interpreted as same-sex marriage.”

An explicit warning to teachers also has been added in a section that discusses sexual identity and orientation.

“No additional information, interpretation or examples are to be provided by the teacher,” the warning states.

Mrs. Turner said she was in favor of parents sitting in on class sessions that their children don’t attend.

“A child might not feel comfortable, particularly in discussion, if their parent is sitting right there,” she said. “They don’t necessarily need to be in their child’s classroom.”

Christine Grewell, co-founder of (TTF), which is in favor of the new sex-ed instruction, disagreed.

“It’s a controversial subject, you’ve got a lot of parents who are very vocal on either side, and maybe [the schools are] just trying to maintain calm,” she said.

The pilot classes will begin Thursday. After the pilot classes conclude later this month, a citizens advisory committee will collect feedback from students, teachers and parents and issue final recommendations to the county school board.

The school board will vote on countywide implementation in the summer or fall.

Under pressure from the CRC, the schools last month removed a sentence in the curriculum that stated: “Sex play with friends of the same gender is not uncommon during early adolescence.”

The schools also removed a statement that said that students would “discuss how you develop your sexual identity.”

At information meetings last week, parents said they were told by teachers and principals that they would be able to sit in on the classes.

Mrs. Turner, who has attended each of the parent information nights along with other CRC members, said the parent nights have been helpful, but not sufficient.

Teachers are “not providing the resource materials for parents to review,” she said. In addition, parents were not allowed to take curriculum copies home.

“Some of the providers of the resource materials are groups that advocate sexual practices and lifestyles that some parents may not want their children to take part in a discussion over,” Mrs. Turner said.

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