Wednesday, January 10, 2007

BoE Debates Sex Ed

David Fishback, a member of the Board of Directors of Metro DC PFLAG, took some great notes at the recent Board of Education meeting on the ever controversial topic of how to teach about homosexuality in sex ed:

There was the expected public comment from the CRC/PFOX people attacking the Superintendent's proposal in its entirety and complaining about the "gay agenda" and the like. (Contrary to one press report, there were not 15 people testifying to their point of view. They had five people speaking at Public Comments.) No one on the BOE even responded to their statements, other than to say, with respect to a lawsuit, "bring it on."

Jim Kennedy of the Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) and, Christine Grewell of, Matthew Murgia of the CAC, and I all spoke generally in support of the proposal, while noting the glaring omission of basic information, notably the medical consensus that homosexuality is not a disease or a disorder. In my testimony, I noted that this is information that all four recently-elected BOE members supported for the curriculum during the campaign and that the CAC had overwhelmingly recommended inclusion of that information.

The Superintendent and the Staff presented the program, touting it as a great advance, which it is, but without really commenting on the substance of the CAC's disagreements with what was not included. The Staff noted that it was including a statement in the 8th Grade curriculum that was already in the 10th Grade curriculum: That sexual orientation is "innate and is a complex part of one's personality."

This seems to be the Staff's way of conveying that sexual orientation is not a choice.

Dr. Rachel Moon, who was one of the American Academy of Pediatrics experts who were consulted at the start of the MCPS revision process, noted that the experts would prefer that sexual orientation information be provided earlier in Middle School than 8th Grade and stressed the need to give kids information, although she did not address the CAC recommentations that were not included by the Staff.

CAC Chair Dr. Carol Plotsky noted that there were some important things that the CAC would have liked to have include. She said that she hoped that after the pilot fileld testing the rejected CAC recommendations would be revisited and included.

BOE President Nancy Navarro said that information needs to be presented in the context of tolerance and that the Staff proposal "begins to achieve our goals." She said that we should see how the field testing goes.

BOE Member Steve Abrams said the BOE should defer to the Staff and see how the field testing goes.

BOE Member Patricia O'Neill addressed the issue of a lawsuit. She said, "See you in court." She then moved to amend the 8th Grade Lesson to include a statement from the American Psychological Association that the medical community has determined that homosexuality is not an illness.

Mr. Abrams responded that there have been some animal studies suggest that sexual orientation can be changed, and said he would vote against the proposal if Ms. O'Neill's amendment was included.

BOE Vice President Shirley Brandman spoke in support of Ms. O'Neill's amendment.

Mr. Abrams responded that it should be opposed because it was not from the Staff.

BOE Member Sharon Cox said that it is good to make it clear that sexual orientation is innate, and that students need to know that homosexuality is within "the normal range of human experience." She then said that she knew that the BOE would be sued no matter what. She added, however, that she "didn't want to give them an additional handle." She also repeated what I heard the Staff said to the experts and CAC Chair Plotsky during a teleconference on Friday: If we add the O'Neill amendment, then what do we say when someone asks about transgender?

Ms. Cox completed her coments by saying that the BOE should let the pilot go forward and see what kinds of questions come up. So she would not want to include Ms. O'Neill's suggestion "at this moment."

New BOE Member Chris Barclay (he was appointed when Valerie Ervin ascended to the County Council as a result of the November election) asked very good questions about what happens when a child asks if homosexuality is an illness. Ms. Navarro then asked BOE attorney Judy Bresler to address the BOE and Bresler gave some very confusing answers about what the guidance counselors could say. One thing that was suggested by Staffer Betsy Brown was that the American Psychological Association document that was drawn upon for the curriculum was available as a resource for the guidance counselors. This still seems unclear. Unfortunately, these exchanges derailed Mr. Barclay's inquiries. Ms. Brown said that that students will ask these questions of their guidance counselors.

Student BOE Member Sara Horvitz responded that students will NOT seek out their guidance counselor -- that very few students have any kind of relationship with their guidance counselor. She also though that the CAC's "fleeting sexual attraction does not prove sexual orientation"

Ms. Cox then said, "I'm just talking about the pilot now. Let's see how it goes."

Ms. Horvitz responded that "questions will come up. We should do it now."

Ms. Navarro again said that the BOE should move forward now and see how the field testing goes.

The vote on Ms. O'Neill's motion was 4-4, so it failed. Ms. O'Neill, Ms. Brandman, Ms. Horvitz and BOE Member Judy Docca, voted in favor. Ms. Navarro, Ms. Cox, Mr. Barclay, and Mr. Abrams voted against.

Ms. Horvitz's motion was defeated by, I think, a vote of 6-3. Ms. Brandman, Ms. Horvitz, and Dr. Docca were the affirmative votes.

Mr. Barclay, however, reiterated that he wanted to see how the field testing went, and that he has "an expectation that things will be added."

Ms. Brandman urged that the BOE hear all the questions raised the course of the field testing. How that will be done has not yet been established.

The BOE then unanimously approved the curriculum for piloting.
Kudos to the Board of Ed for facing down the small number of people opposed to taking a rational approach to the teaching of this subject. I wonder how many of the people who wanted the "ex-gay perspective" taught in the schools would approve of an "ex-gay" dating their daughter? One also cannot help but wonder if School Board Member Abrams really wants to make animal studies the basis for deciding what we teach human children about sex ed. Does he oppose marriage because penguins usually change mates every year?