Sunday, March 4, 2007

Maryland school officials say they will respond as early as this week to a request to stop Montgomery County from beginning sex-education classes this month that include lessons on homosexuality and the use of condoms.

“I expect a ruling by the end of [the] week,” said Bill Reinhard, a spokesman for the Maryland State Board of Education.

The request was filed by a group of residents and parents known as Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum (CRC).

The county’s Board of Education unanimously approved the new curriculum for eighth- and 10th-graders in January and filed a response Tuesday to the group’s request to stop the classes, which will begin as a pilot project in six county schools.

“I don’t think the state board will rule in favor of the appeal,” said Stephen N. Abrams, a county school board member who represents Rockville and Potomac.

CRC was joined in its appeal by the Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX), and the Family Leader Network.

The groups’ primary concerns are the presentation of homosexuality as “innate,” and the descriptions of condom use and anal sex without disclaimers about risk, CRC President John Garza said. “No court that ever ruled on homosexuality has said it is innate.”

Mr. Garza also complained that the Citizens Advisory Council, which was set up to give the school system feedback on the curriculum during the drafting process, was not given an opportunity to debate the assertion that homosexuality is innate.

“This is part of a growing trend across the country,” said Peter Sprigg, a county resident who served on the advisory council and has written two books on the homosexual debate. “Homosexual activists are aggressively promoting full acceptance of their lifestyle in the schools.”

Jim Kennedy, also a member of the advisory council and president of the group, which supports the new curriculum, thinks the appeal will fail.

The groups “read between the lines and assume the schools are promoting homosexuality,” he said. “But none of that is actually in the curriculum. So I can’t imagine that the state will overrule the county in this.”

School officials agreed.

“Half of what [the groups] are charging is in the curriculum is not in the curriculum,” said Brian Edwards, a county public schools spokesman.

Mr. Kennedy said the curriculum should say more about homosexuality.

“It’s good enough,” he said. “But I would have liked to see a set of statements on sexual orientation from the American Medical Association.”

The majority of the 15-member advisory council approved such statements on homosexuality, but the school system did not include them in the final draft put before the Montgomery County Board of Education in January.

“I worked hard to make sure it’s viewpoint-neutral,” Mr. Abrams said. “This is not going to be the issue that brings [the curriculum] down.”

CRC contends that the new curriculum is not viewpoint-neutral.

“They need to include information that states that same-sex attraction can change and is not innate,” CRC founder Michelle Turner said.

The argument has continued for almost two years.

In May 2005, a federal judge ruled on a lawsuit brought by CRC and issued a restraining order stating materials in a former version of the curriculum negatively portrayed some religious groups that did not support homosexuality.

As a result, the county school board scrapped the curriculum and reached a settlement with the group that created new guidelines banning references to religious beliefs.

The new lessons, drafted by the school system, were presented last fall to the advisory council. Council members debated 200 proposed changes and approved 83 of them, according to documents filed with the state board.

The county schools superintendent’s staff approved 69 of the proposals, which were included in the final version approved by the county board in January.

“Most proposals by conservative [members of the advisory council] were not approved, although some were,” said Mr. Sprigg, who represented the group PFOX on the council.

Mr. Sprigg is vice president for policy at the Family Research Council, a D.C.-based Christian group that promotes traditional marriage and family.

“The biggest disappointment was to have our proposals be approved by the [advisory council], only to be discarded by the superintendent’s staff,” he said.

Mr. Sprigg said he was concerned that the framework for the lessons on family life and human development “never mentioned marriage.”

He also said an outside resource in the 10th-grade curriculum was biased.

“There was no reference to the possibility of people changing sexual orientation, and it made repeated references to ‘homophobia’ to stigmatize those opposed to homosexual behavior,” Mr. Sprigg said.

Mr. Abrams said the new curriculum is a suitable compromise for both sides of the debate.

“The real issue here is how far you are going to push the envelope on teaching homosexuality,” he said. “The push is coming from those trying to equate homosexuality as a mainstream position and those opposing those efforts. There will be dissatisfaction, but not enough to prevail over the curriculum.”

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