Health curriculum criticized by court and educational groups
Superintendent Jerry D. Weast suspended the pilot program for the new health education curriculum, which was scheduled to begin May 5, following a ruling by US District Court Judge Alex Williams, who issued a temporary restraining order blocking the pilot.
Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum (CRC) and Parents and Friends of Ex-gays and Gays (PFOX) filed a federal lawsuit on May 3 against MCPS' Board of Education (BOE) to prevent test schools from instituting the new health education curriculum.
Judge Williams issued a 10-day hold on the pilot program of the new curriculum yesterday. Afterwards, a preliminary injunction hearing was to determine if the hold would stand for the remainder of the lawsuit. In response to the decision and the approaching end of the school year, Weast decided to suspend the pilot program and stated that an evaluation of materials to be used in the health curriculum be conducted prior to any institution next year.
In a public announcement dated May 5, Weast stated, "I have directed the Office of the Deputy Superintendent of Schools to review and evaluate the materials referenced in the judge's order and the other teacher resource materials associated with the health curriculum before any decisions are made about future pilot testing of the revised curriculum in our schools." Additionally, Weast suspended the use of the videotape "Protect Yourself," which demonstrates the proper use of condoms, and directed the Deputy Superintendent to evaluate it.
According to a press release, the groups allege that MCPS' new health education curriculum violates parent and student rights of free speech, due process and equal protection guaranteed by the first and fourteenth amendments of the Constitution. Additionally, the new curriculum is criticized for insensitivity towards religious beliefs about homosexuality. "You just can't bring in only one viewpoint," said CRC spokesperson Steve Fisher.
CRC and PFOX are not opposed to health education programs, according to Fisher. "[We] fully support a balanced and fair discussion of sexual orientation with parents' permission of course," he said.
According to their website, CRC provides "a mainstream voice for fairness and scientific accuracy to the [MCPS BOE] regarding its new curriculum." PFOX is a national organization dedicated to supporting the families of gays and ex-gays and promoting an "inclusive environment for the ex-gay community."
CRC and PFOX have requested that MCPS not change their current curriculum, or if there is a substantial need to change it, a new advisory board be established. "If there are valid reasons to change it, we recommend that a totally new advisory committee comprised of truly objective and qualified professional educators, doctors and other medical specialists along with a truly representative sample of parents revisit the requirements and develop more appropriate changes," Fisher explained. Additionally, he alleges, there need to be more complete and balanced resources available to help health education teachers to discuss homosexuality.
According to the chairman of the Citizens Advisory Committee for Family Life and Human Development (CACFLHD), David Fishback, religious beliefs should play no role in the health curriculum. "[Religion] simply has no role for school. The point of the health curriculum is to provide basic facts in line with mainstream science." The only topic of religion included in the curriculum was the idea that different religions have different viewpoints.
Christine Grewell, MCPS parent and co-founder of Teach The Facts, an organization dedicated to "promoting tolerance and fact-based education in MCPS," according to their website, has strong support for the new health curriculum. "I think our children need the most up-to-date, accurate, and scientific information," she explained.
Blair health education teacher Susan Soulé, who initiated the curriculum and proposed it to CACFLHB, believes the decision to suspend the pilot program is "a disappointment, but not a setback. I hope it will be [reinstated] next year."
Soulé believes that families need the option to determine how their children are educated, but also thinks that students should be exposed to the most current and effective health education. "I respect anyone who thinks this is not appropriate for their child," she says, "but educated kids make good decisions."
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