- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Parents in Fairfax County are using a Montgomery County parents group as a model in their attempt to challenge the school system’s sex-education curriculum.

“Parents want to get together and move forward in an organized fashion,” said Kathy Stohr, a Centreville mother of two. “I think there are people all over the county who have had concerns over the years and would like to come together and … have a voice.”

The group will be focused on sex education — an issue that prompted several parents in Montgomery County to form a nonprofit organization last year.

Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum (CRC), which formed in December, circulated a petition and collected more than 4,000 signatures against a new sex-education curriculum, which they say promotes homosexuality and promiscuity.

CRC also filed a lawsuit against the course after the county school board refused to meet with its members. A federal judge on May 5 ruled in the group’s favor and issued a 10-day temporary restraining order, saying the course was biased.

School officials have since shelved the course until next year and are re-examining the curriculum. Parents who support the curriculum formed their own group, known as TeachTheFacts.org (TTF).

In Fairfax County, a group of parents for sometime has been dissatisfied with the school system’s sex-education course content and with the School Board’s attitude, which they describe as “arrogance” toward criticism.

The latest dispute in Fairfax involves the School Board’s recent approval of two pamphlets that discuss emergency contraception, which some believe is a form of abortion. The parents argue that the pamphlets also belittle abstinence. The pamphlets, which will replace an old video, would be distributed as part of the 10th-grade sex-education curriculum.

“The School Board has made it very clear they don’t care what we say. They basically told us, ‘If you don’t like what we do, leave,’ which is not an appropriate response to taxpayers,” said Mary Beth Style, who is on the 23-member advisory panel that approves health-curriculum materials.

Fairfax County school officials did not return telephone calls or respond to an e-mail asking for comment yesterday.

Jeanne Allen, president of the District-based Center for Education Reform, a national advocacy group, largely focused on charter schools, said school administrators in Fairfax and Montgomery counties have disenfranchised parents.

“There is a kind of ‘we know best’ attitude,” Mrs. Allen said. “It is very elitist. There are exceptions, but it’s very parochial in Montgomery and Fairfax County.”

The parents in Fairfax County have seen some results from voicing their opinion, however. Some language in the two pamphlets was changed before the School Board approved the pamphlets in a 10-1 vote.

Initially, abstinence had been defined as “no sexual touching to everything except intercourse.” Parents had sent hundreds of e-mails to show their disapproval and as a result, school officials deleted the phrase.

As CRC in Montgomery County gained recognition in the past few months, the Fairfax parents noticed, and one evenbegan talking with the group’s members, about how they devised their strategies.

“We’ve been thinking about this for a few years, so now we’ve seen that CRC has done this and had some success … it kind of is a remotivation really,” said Mrs. Stohr, whose eldest daughter graduated from public high school last year. Her youngest daughter will begin high school next year.

Like CRC, the Fairfax parents group includes members who are or have been involved with the schools, such as Mrs. Style and Mychele Brickner. Mrs. Brickner served on the county School Board for eight years until 2003 when she ran unsuccessfully for chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

The Fairfax parents are not sure what form their group will take, however.

CRC has a central leadership team of about 10 people, who focus on areas such as public relations, community outreach, religious outreach, legislative affairs and lobbying, and administration. The group also has an informative and up-to-date Web site and a Weblog, as does TTF.

Mrs. Style said the parents in Fairfax definitely want a Web site where they could publicize information they say is not easily accessible.

“We’re definitely angry, and we’re going to do something,” Mrs. Style said. “I’m not sure how we’re going to proceed. We are still working things out.”

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