State Rules in Favor of MCPS in Health Ed Case

March 7, 2007
State Superintendent Nancy Grasmick Rules in Favor of Montgomery County Public Schools in Challenge to Health Education Lessons

ROCKVILLE, MD – State Superintendent of Schools Nancy Grasmick ruled in favor of Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) Wednesday in a challenge brought by opponents of the revised health education lessons in eighth and tenth grades. The ruling clears the way for field tests of the lessons to proceed at three middle schools and three high schools this month.

Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays, and Family Leader Network asked Dr. Grasmick to halt the field tests of two eighth grade lessons and three tenth grade lessons last month in an appeal to the Maryland State Board of Education.

“It is clear from Dr. Grasmick’s ruling that she believes there is significant educational value in proceeding with field tests of lessons that promote respect and tolerance for all people regardless of their sexual orientation,” said Jerry D. Weast, superintendent of schools. “She was not persuaded by the opponents’ arguments that students would be harmed if MCPS proceeded with the field test by pointing out that participation in the lessons is entirely voluntary.”

Dr. Grasmick wrote in her ruling, “I have concluded that, because participation in these classes is entirely voluntary, the harm to those students that the Appellants want to protect is virtually non-existent.” In addition, Dr. Grasmick found that it was in the public interest to field test the lessons designed in part to reduce bullying and harassment based on sexual orientation. She noted that the Maryland General Assembly in 2005 directed school systems to report incidents of harassment, calling it a serious problem in our schools today.

After an extensive and thorough preparation process and a detailed review by the Citizens Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development, the health education curriculum revisions were approved for field testing by the Montgomery County Board of Education January 9. The six schools participating in the field test are Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, Sherwood High School, Watkins Mill High School, Argyle Middle School, Julius West Middle School and Westland Middle School.

For students to participate in the lessons, parents must provide informed written consent in advance. Students who do not have parental consent participate in alternative lessons on different health topics. Parents of all health students in the six field test schools were invited to parent meetings to review the lessons in advance.

The eighth and tenth grade lessons comprises two 45-minute sessions in each grade on respecting differences in human sexuality. The purpose of the curriculum is to promote tolerance, empathy and respect for all people regardless of sexual orientation. The curriculum also defines terms related to sexual orientation.

In addition, the tenth grade curriculum includes one 45-minute lesson and one video detailing the correct usage of a condom. The purpose of the condom demonstration lesson is to show proper application of a condom and to instill the importance of using a condom correctly and consistently to reduce the risk of unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS. The condom demonstration lesson emphasizes that abstinence is the only 100 percent effective method of preventing sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy.

Once the field tests are complete, staff will review feedback from principals, teachers, students and parents and adjust the lessons if necessary. The Board will review any revisions during the summer so that the lessons may be implemented countywide in the fall.

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