Tuesday, November 9, 2004

The Montgomery County public school system approved a curriculum yesterday in which 10th-graders will be shown how to put condoms on cucumbers, and eighth-graders will learn that homosexual couples are the newest American family.

The county school board voted 6-0 in favor of recommendations from the Citizens’ Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development, despite opposition from parents.

“We are a Catholic family and feel strongly that the school system has no right or business telling our children that they may be homosexual and that a homosexual orientation is acceptable,” Tony Castellano said in testimony yesterday before the vote.

The condom demonstration is part of a video titled “Protect Yourself” that will be shown this spring to the 10th-graders. In the video, a girl demonstrates how to fit a condom onto a cucumber and talks about the dangers of unprotected sex and cheap condoms that could break.

The video also stresses abstinence as the only foolproof way to avoid disease, said David Fishback, chairman of the committee. The video was pilot tested last spring in three high schools.

The board is also considering a second video in which food-flavored condoms are discussed.

The curriculum is a revision of previous ones and will be taught this spring to eighth- and 10th-graders in six schools. It defines a family as “two or more people who are joined together by emotional feelings or who are related to one another.”

Same-sex parents are listed under the heading “kinds of families,” along with eight other variations.

The new curriculum also includes detailed information about sexuality and “gender identity.” Gender identity is defined as “a person’s internal sense of knowing whether he or she is male or female.”

The curriculum also will teach that “most experts in the field have concluded that sexual orientation is not a choice.”

Officials did not say which schools would be part of the pilot program.

The committee will assess the results of the studies in June, then make recommendations to the board for countywide application next fall.

“I am confident that we are doing the right thing,” said school board President Sharon W. Cox. She also said the new curriculum represented “mainstream thinking” and that opposition was “predicated on a difference of belief on whether homosexuality is a choice or not.”

Chris Moody, who has a daughter in kindergarten in Clarksburg, disagreed with Ms. Cox’s assessment.

“I am not a homophobe, and I don’t get irate on this issue,” he said. “But the school board presenting it this way says, ‘Hey it’s normal and fine.’ I think that’s going too far.”

He pointed to a section of the curriculum that states it is a “fact” that “sex play with friends of the same gender is not uncommon during early adolescence.”

About a dozen parents and concerned residents spoke out against the curriculum revisions at a public forum in Rockville yesterday morning, before the afternoon vote. There was no public testimony in favor of the revisions.

Mr. Castellano found out about the forum one day prior, and hastily arranged a statement.

Mr. Fishback said having two homosexual sons sparked his interest in becoming the chairman of the advisory board, but did not shape his opinions.

“There is nothing there that is objectionable unless you believe that people wake up one day and say, ‘I’m going to become a homosexual,’” Mr. Fishback said.

He said the passage in 11 states last week of constitutional amendments banning same-sex “marriages” did not indicate that public opinion perceives homosexuality as immoral.

Mr. Fishback said Montgomery County “is not a homophobic” community.

“If we don’t [teach this] here because people in another part of the country think differently, then it will always stay bad,” he said.

Mr. Moody said it was the parents’ job to educate children about sexuality.

“I’m not taking the approach that we should have our heads in the sand,” he said. “We certainly want to be respectful of people who think this way, but it’s our job to teach our kids about morality, not the school’s.”

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