Saturday, June 4, 2005

Montgomery County parents are seeking to gain more influence over how public schools teach their children about sex by applying for advisory committees, and are working on long-term strategies for activism.

“We see our little organization continuing to grow and addressing issues maybe in a broader range, maybe in the state level,” said Michelle Turner, a parent and president of Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum (CRC), which won a federal lawsuit against the school system’s new sex-education course.

“If we can have success here, and some of these issues we have concerns about are coming from the state Board of Education, then maybe we need to take a look at what’s happening there.”

Montgomery County’s school board last month scrapped its sex-education curriculum after a federal judge had ruled it discriminated against certain religious beliefs. The board also dissolved the 27-member citizens committee that played a central role in shaping the new course.

The school system is required by law to set up the committee. But school officials have said they intend to ?reconstitute? it, which means all aspects of the panel — number of members, length of terms, amount of influence — are subject to change.

“We’ll be watching the whole process very carefully,” said Jim Kennedy, a parent and co-founder of (TTF), which supported the curriculum.

Several parents from TTF and CRC have applied for positions on the committee.

Mrs. Turner, who served on the original advisory committee, said she does not know if she is eligible for the new one.

School officials could not say who is eligible for the new panel. However, the committee likely will play a less significant role.

The school board has tasked Superintendent Jerry D. Weast with developing the new course and voted that “the new Revisions shall be developed by professional educators within MCPS and consultants, appointed by the superintendent.”

The new revisions will be given to the citizens advisory committee “for review and consultation, to the degree deemed appropriate by the superintendent,” the board decided.

TTF is hoping that the public school system doesn’t intend to make any substantive changes to the course.

“They didn’t say they would do it any different. They just said they would do it over again,” said Mr. Kennedy. “The school district is taking back the power.”

But Mrs. Turner said she is worried that the schools are trying to disentangle themselves from negotiations with CRC and Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX), the group that joined the lawsuit against the curriculum.

“While the board is obviously feeling the heat from parents … we feel it is trying to do an end-run around the suit,” Mrs. Turner said.

“In its public statements, the board claims absolute authority over the curriculum. Nowhere does it state a willingness to come together with us parents to make sure the curriculum meets community standards.”

Montgomery County Board of Education President Patricia O’Neill said the lawsuit brought by CRC and PFOX was the reason she voted to scrap the course.

“We’re no less committed to moving forward on the issue of sexual variations,” she said.

Stephen Abrams, the lone Republican on the school board, said it was “clear” that the school board’s adoption of Mr. Weast’s resolution means that the new curriculum will be constructed “within the professional component of the system, instead of as a negotiation between outside groups.”

The resolution states that the school system “retains the sole right and responsibility for determining the content of all curriculum.”

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