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Education Reporter

Controversial Maryland Sex Ed Curriculum Is Adopted

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The final version of a supplementary sex education curriculum called "Respect for Differences in Human Sexuality" received approval from the Maryland Board of Education, and will now be offered to 8th- and 10th-graders in Montgomery County, Maryland. The curriculum has been under revision for five years, amid much controversy among groups that disagree on teaching about sexual orientation in public schools.

Montgomery County attracted national attention in 2005, when a federal judge sided with parents against the original version of the curriculum (see Education Reporter, June 2005). It was very unusual for a judge to rule against a school board's adopted sex ed curriculum. It was also unusual that the lessons chided specific Christian denominations for condemning homosexual acts, and applauded other denominations for "address(ing) the homophobia of the church."

The original curriculum contained statements on homosexuality and spirituality such as this one: "Myth: Homosexuality is a sin. Facts: The Bible contains six passages which condemn homosexual behavior. The Bible also contains numerous passages condemning heterosexual behavior." What the curriculum meant by this latter claim became clear later on, when it asserted its own view of normal sexual behavior: people "form a variety of [sexual] relationships lasting from one night to many years."

"A family is two or more people who are joined together by emotional feelings or who are related to one another," the curriculum preached.

The new version of the curriculum does not criticize any religious group or specifically mention the Bible's view of homosexuality. Instead it attempts to focus on tolerance and to teach students that it is wrong to bully others. However, the curriculum presents only a wholly favorable view of homosexual or transgender behaviors.

It also says that such behaviors are "innate" and unchangeable. Groups such as Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum have argued that this is inappropriate, since the public school district thus presents and endorses only one side of an issue about which many people disagree.

Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum led an appeal to the Maryland Board of Education based on these concerns and relevant First Amendment and parental rights issues. The board issued a decision on June 27 dismissing these concerns and affirming the curriculum.

The state board agreed with Montgomery County's school board that public schools need not present all issues with strict "viewpoint neutrality." The Montgomery board, in one of its motions, argued that "one of the principal purposes of public education is to instill civic virtues. . . . Doing so necessarily requires a school board to make normative decisions all the time — whether in deciding to teach the history of the Holocaust without lending credence to those who deny it or extolling the virtues of democratic rule in civics class without giving equal time to the 'virtues' of fascism." The state board quoted this argument at length in its own decision.

The appellants argued that the curriculum as constituted amounted to an establishment of secular humanism as a religion. The state board rejected this argument, citing two federal district court decisions that ruled secular humanism is not a religion.

To the claim that such a dogmatic curriculum interferes with parents' fundamental right to direct their children's education, the state board rejoined: "It is, of course, the fundamental rights [sic] of a parent to control the upbringing of his/her child . . . , but that right is not absolute. It must bend to the State's duty to educate its citizens."

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