Section on homosexuality to be piloted in spring 2005
The Board of Education (BOE) unanimously approved a video on condom usage on Nov. 9 that will be incorporated into county 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 it to a cucumber, based on the success of a pilot program last spring. Blair piloted the condom video in three of health teacher Susan Soulé's classes last year, and the video was piloted in health classes at Blake and Northwest High Schools as well.
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, whose involvement in the issue was significant 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 we know how to use [condoms]."
Junior Margot Pass, who viewed the video in Soulé's eighth period health 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.
Board 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 of 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 who would be willing to demonstrate how to use a condom,” said Soulé, who explained that this step was just the beginning in a three-year-long process.
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 correctly use a condom in their classes. "I collected 26 [petitions] back, and I had a majority," said Soule.
The Citizen's Advisory Committee overwhelmingly favored the video and helped to get Soulé's program approved for a pilot by the board for the spring of 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. "We really needed that consistency."
Soulé's eagerness to ensure consistency in condom instruction stems from her dedication to HIV/AIDS awareness, especially among young people. "A lot of people thought I was promoting sex, but my whole issue was HIV/AIDS," she said.
Henke supports the curriculum 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."
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. In addition, students must have parental permission to participate in the Family Life and Human Development unit when the condom video will be shown. Sophomore Margaret Khan, who will be taking health class next semester, thinks that the permission slips are important. "I can see how [the video] could be kind of offending to some people," she said.
The permission slip will also be used in the three Montgomery County high schools and three middle schools that will pilot the introduction of homosexuality in the curriculum.
Several surrounding counties, including Howard County and Prince George's County, have already successfully integrated homosexuality and condom instruction into the curriculum, according to Henke. "We are not doing something that's a pioneering effort here," he said. "This is something we're going to do to safeguard our students."
The homosexuality pilot program will introduce different aspects of the issue to eighth grade health classes and tenth grade health classes. At the eighth grade-level, teachers will mostly be "introducing terminology," according to Henke.
The high school-level instruction will be more interactive with students by asking them to share their experiences and examine human rights issues, said Henke. "We will emphasize that it's not an illness, it's just another way to be."
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 »