- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Montgomery County Board of Education yesterday approved Superintendent Jerry D. Weast’s proposal to expand lessons on sexual orientation and condom use to all middle schools and high schools beginning this fall.

The curriculum, five years in the making, was approved in a 6-1 vote, despite a last-minute addition allowing teachers to tell students who ask that homosexuality is not a mental illness.

Board member Stephen Abrams cast the dissenting vote, saying that he was “extraordinarily upset and offended” that Mr. Weast did not notify the board about the one-sentence addition until Monday night.

The addition reads, “If students ask, ‘Is homosexuality an illness?’ say, ‘No. The American Psychiatric Association does not include homosexuality in its listing of psychiatric or mental disorders.’ ”

“What changed from the time I was briefed on the issue?” Mr. Abrams said. “There is no new science. The only thing that could have changed is pressure placed by some group … to reignite the issue.”

An advisory committee of parents and educators recommended in a memo to Mr. Weast Thursday that five statements be added to the lessons: that fleeting, same-sex attraction does not determine sexual orientation; that homosexuality is neither a disease nor a mental illness; that homosexuality is not a choice; that homosexuals can live “happy, successful lives”; and that children raised by same-sex couples “do just as well” as those raised by heterosexuals.

Mr. Weast said he deferred to staff recommendations after March test runs in six schools and declined to implement the advisory committee’s requests. He denied that outside pressure forced the change.

Board member Patricia O’Neill, who voted for the curriculum, acknowledged that there are strong feelings on both sides of the issue and described tactics by some opponents as “incredibly hostile” and “bigoted.”

The addition does not change the curriculum but provides clarification guidelines for teachers who are asked a specific question, Mrs. O’Neill added.

“I believe that this is a very good curriculum,” she said. “I will vote proudly … without any reservations.”

The discussion grew testy when Mr. Abrams challenged other board members’ claims that the curriculum remained unchanged.

“We are adding a clarification, which I would argue is a curriculum change,” Mr. Abrams said. “You can dress up a pig any way you want to, but the one wearing a dress is still a pig.”

The curriculum is the board’s second attempt to rewrite it after a federal judge struck down the first version in 2005. It must be approved by the state Board of Education before it can be implemented.

Three residents groups that opposed to the plan appealed to the state board, which is expected to rule this summer.

About 50 opponents protested outside the school board’s offices in Rockville before the meeting began yesterday morning, said Michelle Turner, spokeswoman for Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, one of the appellants.

Mrs. Turner praised Mr. Abrams for standing his ground.

“He was absolutely right: This is something that should have been addressed back in January” but instead was railroaded through at the last minute, she said in a telephone interview immediately after the vote. “They are notorious for that.”

Parental permission slips were required for students to participate in the field tests. Permission slips will be required if the curriculum is implemented countywide.

Almost 9 percent of the 901 students who were enrolled in the health classes in which the curriculum was presented did not attend the pilot lessons, schools spokeswoman Kate Harrison said.



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