Monday, May 2, 2005

A Montgomery County Public Schools spokesman said yesterday that the district will not bar parents from sitting in on a sex-ed course that begins this week, and that they never intended to.

“Parents of kids in those classes will be allowed [in],” said spokesman Brian Edwards, contradicting statements he made days before to The Washington Times.

In a phone interview Friday, Mr. Edwards, who has been with the school district since November, said “no” when asked whether parents would be allowed to audit the sex-ed classes.

“When you’re talking about a sensitive topic like this, and you’re relying on the trust you’ve built up with your students, it’s probably not advisable” to have parents in the class, he told The Times.

Yesterday, however, the district’s public relations chief reversed field, telling The Times and other local news organizations that parents would be barred only if their behavior was disruptive or disturbing to school operations.

Mr. Edwards’ latest comments are in line with the schools’ written policy on auditing classrooms, which states: “Classroom visits and conferences by parents and other persons in the school community are encouraged. Such visits should be arranged through the principal’s office.”

The policy defines a visitor as “a person … who has legitimate school business to transact, such as a conference with a school member, and whose conduct is not disruptive or disturbing to the normal operations of the school.”

Mr. Edwards said principals will have authority to limit the number and duration of classroom visits.

Mr. Edwards said yesterday that he was not aware of any parents who had requested permission to audit the classes. He said he would check with principals at the six schools where the sex-ed course is being tested.

The pilot class begins Thursday at Springbrook, Seneca Valley and Bethesda Chevy-Chase high schools, and White Oak Middle School. The course will begin testing at Tilden and Martin Luther King middle schools later this month.

In November, the county school board voted unanimously to approve a tryout of the new curriculum.

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

Also, households with same-sex parents are identified among nine types of 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.

Parents who are concerned about the new curriculum because they think it favors a homosexual agenda and encourages promiscuity have formed a nonprofit group, called Citizens for Responsible Curriculum (CRC). They are planning to file a lawsuit against the school system this morning.

Another parents group, Teach the (TTF), has formed in support of the curriculum.

Jim Kennedy, a member of Teach the Facts, said he agreed with the schools’ policy.

“If parents want to sit and listen, I suppose they have the right to listen,” he said. “If a parent comes to the classroom, they should be quiet and listen. If they’re going to interrupt, I don’t think they’re going to be in there.”

Crystal Pittman, whose son is in 10th-grade at Springbrook, attended a parent-information meeting last week to learn about the curriculum.

“I’m under the impression, even my son is getting the impression, that not only are they going to define homosexuality, they’re going to be convincing our youth … that homosexuality is OK, it’s just another choice, and to me that is just so totally and morally wrong,” Ms. Pittman said.

She also said that because she had attended the meeting and talked with her son about the course, she did not feel the need to be in the classroom.

CRC President Michelle Turner said the parents meetings were helpful, but insufficient because parents were not shown resources and supplemental materials for teachers, which are provided by groups such as Planned Parenthood Federation of America Inc. and Advocates for Youth.

Mrs. Turner said those groups advocate discussions of “sexual practices and lifestyles that some parents may not want their children participating in.”

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