Thursday, May 5, 2005

Montgomery County Public Schools yesterday halted a new sex-ed curriculum that was to have begun today, after a federal judge ruled in favor of a lawsuit that charged the course is unconstitutional and promotes homosexuality.

U.S. District Judge Alexander Williams Jr. had granted a 10-day temporary restraining order yesterday to halt the teaching of the new course.

“I have directed the office of the deputy superintendent of schools to review and evaluate the materials referenced in the judge’s order,” Superintendent Jerry D. Weast said, “…before any decisions are made about any future pilot testing of the revised curriculum in our schools.”

Mr. Weast also said that he is suspending the use of “Protect Yourself” — the video where a woman demonstrates condom use with a cucumber — pending further investigation by the schools.

Judge Williams agreed with the two groups that filed the lawsuit — Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum (CRC) and Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX) — who argued that the curriculum is biased toward homosexuality and dismisses religious perspectives on the subject.

Montgomery County Public Schools “open up the classroom to the subject of homosexuality, and specifically, the moral rightness of the homosexual lifestyle,” the judge wrote in his decision.

“However, the Revised Curriculum presents only one view on the subject — that homosexuality is a natural and morally correct lifestyle — to the exclusion of other perspectives.

“The public interest is served by preventing [school officials] from promoting particular religious beliefs in the public schools and preventing [the officials] from disseminating one-sided information on a controversial topic,” Judge Williams wrote.

The program was to have been taught at three middle schools and three high schools.

CRC President Michelle Turner, who has five children in public schools, has led the effort to stop the curriculum since November, when the county school board voted unanimously to approve it.

“This is beyond our wildest dreams. Who could ever have imagined this?” she said. “The board totally capitulated. We won big-time.”

Mrs. Turner said she hopes the school board will meet with her and other CRC and PFOX members to discuss revising the curriculum if it is to be taught in the future. She said her group brought the lawsuit because the school board refused to meet with the members even after they presented more than 4,000 petition signatures last month opposing the course.

Christine Grewell, a parent who helped found a group supporting the curriculum,, said she was “a little disappointed” with the judge’s decision and “expected it to be over in one squash.”

David Fishback, chairman of the citizens advisory committee that approved the course materials, said he expected Judge Williams to rule against CRC because the curriculum “does nothing more than state basic facts about sexual orientation as understood by every mainstream American medical and mental health professional association.”

Judge Williams, 56, was appointed by President Clinton in 1994, after serving as state’s attorney for Prince George’s County for seven years. He earned his law degree at Howard University School of Law in 1973 and a master’s degree at Howard University School of Divinity in 1991.

He expressed concern over a portion of the curriculum that “discriminates between religious sects in that it prefers those sects that are friendly to the homosexual lifestyle.”

Erik W. Stanley, a lawyer representing CRC, said the teacher resources supplied by groups such as Planned Parenthood were not, as the schools said, peripheral to the curriculum.

“They are as much a part of the curriculum as the curriculum itself,” he said during a 90-minute hearing at U.S. District Court in Greenbelt yesterday.

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