School Board, Conservatives Clash Over Sex-Ed Curriculum

By Monisha Bansal | July 7, 2008 | 8:06 PM EDT

( - Maryland's education board is expected to decide by Tuesday on whether to allow lessons this spring on "respect for differences in human sexuality." The proposal is being criticized by social conservative groups who oppose presenting homosexuality as "normal" behavior.

Approved by a unanimous vote by the Montgomery County Board of Education in January, the revised curriculum consists of "lessons on respect for differences in human sexuality and a lesson on condom use for Grade 10 students that includes a demonstration video."

The human sexuality curriculum is scheduled for field testing this spring, but Citizens for Responsible Curriculum (CRC) and Parents and Friends of Ex-gays and Gays (PFOX) have filed an appeal to the education board in a bid to stop the lessons from entering the classroom.

In 2005, CRC and PFOX were successful is striking down a similar attempt by Montgomery County Public Schools.

"We're concerned about the inaccuracy of the information, we're concerned about the lack of factual information, we're concerned about the lack of viewpoint neutrality, the bias, [and] the introduction of anal and oral sex without the proper or correct information on the efficacy of condoms being used for those two sex acts," CRC spokeswoman Michelle Turner told Cybercast News Service.

If the state board of education fails to issue a stay, the groups will return to court, she said.

In the curriculum proposal, Jerry Weast, superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools, says "the revised lessons reflect a considerable undertaking by professional educators.

"The lessons were designed in consultation with four physicians recommended by the Maryland Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics who served as volunteer medical consultants," Weast said.

"The physicians, whose expertise includes pediatrics and adolescent health, made important contributions to the staff's work concerning the design, content, format, and sequencing of age appropriate lessons for students in the two grade levels," he added.

Weast also said students may opt out of the lessons.

"Alternative lessons are being updated for students who enroll in the affected health education courses but who do not have their parents' informed, written consent to participate in the entire units on family life and human sexuality and/or disease prevention and control within those courses," he said.

CRC argues that the lessons will "violate students' Constitutional rights including freedom of speech and the right to exercise one's religion freely."

"They are introducing homosexuality as something being on the same par as heterosexuality, that it is normal, that it is innate," Turner said.

"For those students who have been raised in homes where the opposite has been taught, it is going to cause confusion. It is not permitting the students to express their beliefs and what they've been taught."

Turner also took issue with the schools' definition of homophobia.

"Their definition for homophobia, according to the curriculum, is someone who is uneducated and hateful towards homosexuals, and we don't think that's right," she said.

"I don't think it's fair that because they don't agree with homosexuality or go along with it as being normal, that there is something wrong with them, that they are uneducated or ignorant."

Turner was unimpressed with the plan to allow students to opt out of the lessons.

"The kid is handed a packet full of papers and sent to the media center with no teacher, no instruction, and then faces criticism, and ridicule and harassment from their peers for not being able to take the class."

CRC is also accusing the school board of "viewpoint discrimination." It says the board "tells gays, lesbians and bisexuals that their sexual orientation is healthy and normal, while denying the existence of those who are ex-gay or attempting to overcome same-sex attractions."

"We think that's doing a great disservice to the youth," Turner said.

Daryl Presgraves, spokesman for the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, disagreed with Turner's position.

"The concern is about the health and safety of students, and there is some question about how mentally healthy it is to introduce the idea of reparative therapy to students who are coming to know their sexuality," Presgraves told Cybercast News Service.

"Health organizations have said that introducing the idea of someone going through reparative therapy can be dangerous and is not a credited mental health perspective," he added. "Because the mental health organizations have not endorsed the practice, our concern is for the mental health and well-being of young people."

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