Thursday, November 11, 2004

Pastors and parents of Montgomery County said yesterday they are uniting in opposition to a new sex-education program in high schools that they think promotes homosexuality.

School officials “have definitely stepped over the line in assuming the majority of parents in this county accept this,” said Tim Simpson, pastor of 500-member Greenridge Baptist Church in Clarksburg and parent of a high school student.

The program teaches eighth- and 10th-graders that sexual experimentation with members of the same sex is common and normal, that same-sex couples are one form of a traditional family and that homosexuality is not a choice.

Critics are also upset because they think school officials did an inadequate job of telling parents about the curriculum changes and about a video in which a girl is shown fitting a condom onto a cucumber.

The video was approved for countywide use in the spring while the curriculum revisions will be tested this spring in six schools, which have yet to be named.

The critics also say the county’s board of education has dismissed their opposition as a “minority report” and now plan to talk with principals and religious leaders to keep the program out of schools.

“This absolutely is contradictory to the basic values that most people have in this county, let alone the people that I pastor,” Mr. Simpson said. “The message here is that choosing to participate in the gay lifestyle is an option that is on par with heterosexuality. That is obviously not mainstream…. Now they are forcing this political agenda on the families of our county who in a great majority do not accept these values at all.”

Mr. Simpson said he is also considering talking to public interest law firms such as the American Center for Law and Justice.

Kate Harrison, the county public school system spokeswoman, said parents must provide written permission for their child to participate in the weeklong sex-education program. She also said abstinence-only classes and an independent study option will be offered as alternatives.

The school board voted 6-0 Tuesday to approve the recommendations of the Citizens’ Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development, despite opposition from several members of the community, including a member of the advisory committee.

Michelle Turner, committee member and former president of the county’s Council of Parent Teacher Associations, told the board that most committee members “have consistently promoted an agenda that is contrary to the beliefs of most of this state and nation.”

Mrs. Turner, whose child attends high school, said three committee members who opposed the revised sex-education curriculum resigned in protest.

She has asked Dale Fulton, the county’s associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction, to allow her to revise the permission slip that will be given to parents so that it gives greater detail about the program.

“Sexual orientation being introduced to eighth-graders is totally inappropriate for such a young age and is only going to confuse kids, and it’s contrary to what many parents want to teach their children,” she said. “I don’t understand why we have to teach kids how to put on a condom. If they can’t figure out how to put on a condom, then they’re too stupid to be having sex.”

The new curriculum also teaches that “a family is two or more people who are joined together by emotional feelings or who are related to one another.”

Some board members said the new instruction about homosexuality and same-sex couples is controversial but necessary.

“It is important for children to have facts about the way life really is,” said school board President Sharon W. Cox.

Some parents said they were insulted by Ms. Cox labeling their testimony a minority report, and that they found out about the board’s vote at the last minute.

“I understand I have a responsibility to be an informed citizen,” Mr. Simpson said. “But on the other hand, they have a responsibility to communicate.”

Board Vice President Patricia O’Neill said parents have had two years to get involved with the issue.

“There are plenty of opportunities for people who choose to be informed to participate on the committee,” she said.

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