- The Washington Times - Monday, March 26, 2007

Roughly 10 percent of Montgomery County students did not attend the school system’s new sex-education classes that include lessons on homosexuality and condom use.

Three lessons were taught last week for 10th-graders at Watkins Mill and Bethesda-Chevy Chase high schools. And two lessons were held for eighth-graders at Argyle and Julius West middle schools.

Of the 488 students enrolled in the classes, 24 presented a parental-permission slip excusing them, and 17 failed to bring a permission slip allowing them to take the classes, said county schools spokesman Brian Edwards.

The classes are test lessons and are being taught this week at Sherwood High School and Westland Middle School.

This marks the first time sexual orientation has been taught in county public schools. The classes are expected to be part of the school system’s 38 middle and 25 high schools by next fall.

Mr. Edwards said students who opted out of the classes and those who didn’t bring their permission slips were taught alternative lessons.

Michelle Turner, spokeswoman for Citizens for Responsible Curriculum, which opposes the lessons, said some students were left to sit in the library during the class.

The group sent letters and automated-phone calls to parents urging them not to allow their children to attend the classes.

A Watkins Mill student decided not to take the classes because of what they taught was contrary to her beliefs, said her father, John Fichter.

The lessons she would have heard include definitions of the terms homosexual, bisexual, transgender and homophobia,” he said.

One section is called “Recognizing One’s Orientation,” and another includes a video on condom use. Some parents are concerned about the lesson’s portrayal of homosexuality.

“I think [my daughter] felt it was portraying as normal something that’s not normal at all,” Mr. Fichter said. “They don’t present any of the health risks about” homosexual behavior. He also said there is “no portrayal of normal heterosexual marriage as a normal lifestyle.”

He asked that his daughter’s name not be used.

The curriculum was approved in January by the county school board, but the Citizens group and other critics asked the state Board of Education to stop the schools from teaching the lessons. Maryland Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick declined to halt the pilot lessons, but the appeal is still pending before the state school board.

This is the second attempt by the board to rewrite the curriculum. A federal judge halted the first version just before it was to be taught in 2005.

A 10th-grader who took the class at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School said it was informative.

“I don’t think it was very controversial,” said Laura Neuhauser, 15. “People understood why it was being taught and didn’t really have anything against it.”

Jim Kennedy, a founding member of teachthefacts.org, which supports the curriculum, said parents who take their children out of the class will lose the opportunity to comment on the curriculum. The school board will review comments about the lessons before deciding whether to implement them in the fall.

“When you talk about these opt-out numbers, they won’t reflect any quality of the curriculum itself; it will reflect the fact that [parents] are getting calls telling them something scary is happening,” Mr. Kennedy said. “If they’re successful, only the students from liberal families will take the class, so all the feedback will reflect that.”

Mr. Kennedy said a small group of conservatives was inflating an issue with which most of the county had no problem.

“This is not a big deal,” he said. “It’s just a class.”

But Mrs. Turner disagreed.

“We don’t feel its the school’s responsibility to teach that material,” she said.

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