The Board of Education (BOE) unanimously approved a new video on condom usage on Nov. 9 that will be incorporated into MCPS Health classes this spring. Board members also passed a pilot program that will include homosexuality in the Family Life and Human Development unit.
The BOE approved the inclusion of the eight-minute condom video, which consists of a University of Maryland peer educator demonstrating how to use a condom by applying one to a cucumber, based on the success of an MCPS pilot program last spring. Blair piloted the condom video in three of Health teacher Susan Soulé's classes last year and in Health classes at Blake and Northwest High Schools.
Students and their parents were very receptive to the video, according to Russell Henke, staff liaison to the Citizens' Advisory Committee for Family Life and Human Development, who reviewed feedback from the participants. "They thought the video was informative and helped them understand the problems behind condom use and how to use [condoms] properly,” he said.
On Nov. 10, Channel 9 News interviewed Soulé, who played a major role in getting County approval for the use of the video in Montgomery County high schools. She told Channel 9 that her students and their parents approved of the video. "We had 100 percent participation,” she said. "It was all very positive feedback.” Channel 9 also interviewed freshman Molly Martinez, who agreed with the idea of the video and its message. "Teaching only abstinence is teaching ignorance,” she said to Channel 9, "so I think it's important that [students] know how to use [condoms].”
Junior Margot Pass, who viewed the video in Soulé's class last year, thought that it was both appropriate and necessary. "I think abstinence training is important, but really, you have to have condom education in Health,” she said.
However, the curriculum changes have angered countless parents in the Montgomery County area, and many have chosen to voice their concerns on the school board recall web site, http://www.recallmontgomeryschoolboard.com. Michelle Turner, an Einstein parent, posted, "I believe that 12- and 13-year-olds do not have the maturity to process what is being proposed for their sex ed. I also do not believe that condom demonstrations are appropriate in our tax funded schools.”
BOE members must approve all health curriculum changes and materials before they can be implemented, according to Henke. Groups like the Citizens'
Advisory Committee often provide recommendations to the Board for improvements in the curriculum.
Although the curriculum currently includes instruction on abstinence and
birth- control, Soulé felt that the birth-control lesson was not being taught consistently across the county. She brought the issue to her Board supervisor in 2001 and asked if he would be "open to providing an avenue”
for teachers to demonstrate proper condom use, said Soulé, who explained that this step was merely the beginning of a three-year-long fight for the video's inclusion in the curriculum.
Soulé then contacted every Montgomery County Health teacher who taught students at the high-school level and circulated a letter asking teachers to volunteer their names if they were comfortable demonstrating how to use a condom correctly in their classes. A majority of teachers supported the idea, according to Soulé.
The Citizens' Advisory Committee overwhelmingly favored the video designed for the lesson and helped get Soulé's program approved by the Board for a pilot run in spring 2004. "For me, the good thing is seeing the end of something that took forever,” said Soulé, who is anxious to introduce the change to her second-semester classes.
Soulé's eagerness to ensure consistency in condom instruction stems from her desire to increase HIV/AIDS awareness, especially among the youth population. "A lot of people thought I was promoting sex, but my whole issue was HIV/AIDS,” she said.
Henke supports the change for the same reason. "We have seen a rather dramatic increase in HIV among the teenage population,” he said. "We were hoping that we would be able to keep students from this disease through instruction.”
The Center for Disease Control's National Prevention Information Network
(CDCNPIN) has reported that infection rates for adolescents and young adults are increasing. Approximately half of all new HIV infections are believed to occur among people under the age of 25, according to CDCNPIN.
Before teachers can show the video in their classrooms this spring, they are required to attend a two-hour training session to watch and discuss the video. The video will be mentioned in the permission slips that Health classes require for student participation in the Family Life and Human Development unit.
A similar permission slip will also be used in the three MCPS high schools and three middle schools that will pilot the introduction of homosexuality in the curriculum.
The homosexuality pilot program will introduce different aspects of the issue to eighth- and tenth-grade health classes. At the eighth-grade level, teachers will mostly be "introducing terminology,” according to Henke.
Caitlin Garlow. Caitlin is a second-semester senior at last. Her favorite things include making fun of her homeless sister and hunting down her clothes in other people's closets. More »