VISION & VALUES CONCISE: Blue School Board Fails Lesson

Montgomery County, Maryland is a blue county. Next door to Washington, D.C., the county went 66 percent to 33 percent for Senator Kerry in the recent election. So when the Montgomery County School Board rubber stamped a set of committee recommendations expanding sexual education content to include condom demonstrations and left of center views on homosexuality, I suspect the members of the board expected little resistance from parents. Surprise! In fact, after two years of stonewalling efforts from parents to register their views, the school board members may find themselves facing voters in a recall effort.

Rumor is that the school board thinks the whole thing will blow over. However, one glance at the website Recallmontgomeryschoolboard.com provides evidence that the parents are serious. Given such strong reaction concerning values, the school board may need to glean some lessons from the last election.

Maryland is hardly a fly over state but there are rural and mainstream folk in this county who are plenty incensed at the kinds of changes envisioned for sex education. For instance, in a newly approved film, “Hope is Not a Method,” a teen girl is shown skillfully placing a condom over a cucumber. However, this is not an episode of Veggie Tales Gone Wild. Students are also treated to a discussion of the virtues of fruit flavored condoms. In the new curriculum, students are informed that homosexual experimentation may be normal.

Some parents are not amused. According to articles in both The Washington Post and The Washington Times, the school board meetings have been peppered with protesting parents. According to a Jon Ward article in The Washington Times, Tim Simpson, pastor and parent of a high school student, said that school officials “have definitely stepped over the line in assuming the majority of parents in this county accept this.”

For their part, school board members seem perplexed and annoyed at such spasms of moral outrage. According to The Washington Times, Patricia O’Neill, board vice president huffed: “There are plenty of opportunities for people who choose to be informed to participate on the committee.” The committee she speaks of is the Citizens’ Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development. This committee has been meeting periodically during the past two years at the direction of the school board for the purpose of improving the school’s health education. The recommendations at issue are largely the work of this body.

Given the controversy generated by the Citizen’s Advisory Committee, the school board should not be surprised by upset parents now. Throughout its two years of working on the sexuality materials, the committee refused to include any professional resources that promoted abstinence only or presented a balanced view of homosexuality. Parents did go to those meetings and complain. Three members resigned in protest. Letters to the editor were published. For a previous column, I called the school district’s health education coordinator, Russ Henke, and asked him why the committee was excluding peer reviewed research that gave a diversity of views concerning sexual orientation. He said the school board would be able to reverse any recommendations they felt were inappropriate. Apparently, the school board has no interest in doing so.

This is a brewing controversy worth watching. Since the election, Democratic ruminating has included remorse over being perceived as out of touch with mainstream American “values voters.” Many Democrats including Senator Joe Lieberman have suggested the party become more moderate on social issues. In this blue county, will there be a shift toward the moral center on this matter of sexuality education? For the current school board’s part, they seem to be puzzled by the concern of mainstream parents. The parents seem to feel that the board’s actions are another example of cultural erosion in their own back yard.

The school board could just wait this out and hope that the parents go away. Or they could learn some lessons from current events.