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Groups try to block Maryland county from using sex ed program

Groups try to block Maryland county from using sex ed program

A federal judge planned to rule Thursday afternoon whether Montgomery County, Md., can use a new health curriculum, set to debut Friday, that includes discussions of homosexuality and a videotaped demonstration of how to use a condom. U.S. district judge Alexander Williams heard arguments Thursday morning in a lawsuit filed by two groups who claim the new program discriminates against religious students and parents who may object to its contents. The groups are asking Williams to issue a temporary restraining order barring Montgomery County from implementing the pilot program in six schools. "They [the school system] are totally ignoring and stepping in between parents and their churches," said Ellen Castellano, a Catholic from Montgomery Village with seven children in the county schools. She is part of Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, which filed the lawsuit Wednesday along with the Virginia-based Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays. Parents have the choice of opting out of the health curriculum by signing a permission form, according to school system attorney Judith Bresler. If the court blocked the county schools, it would hurt only the students who agreed to take part, not those opposed to the program who can choose not to participate, she said. "These parents cannot allege...that they are harmed by the decisions of others," Bresler said of the groups behind the lawsuit. Montgomery County's school board approved the new curriculum in November for students in eighth and 10th grades. County educators say the changes were needed to teach students about the dangers of unprotected sex. The county plans to use it in all schools after testing it this spring. Previously, health teachers could discuss homosexuality only in response to questions. Under the new program, they can bring up the issue on their own. The 10th-grade class will include a seven-minute video that discusses abstinence and includes a segment where a woman puts a condom on a cucumber to demonstrate its use. Students and parents who choose not to take part are offered alternatives that include abstinence-only programs. The groups that filed suit claim the curriculum implies that homosexuality is a biological trait, not a lifestyle choice. It excludes the viewpoints of so-called ex-gays and those who believe that "same-sex attraction can be overcome," according to their attorney, Erik Stanley. Stanley said the curriculum's frank discussion of homosexuality amounted to preference of one religion over the other, taking the viewpoint held by some faiths, such as Quakers and Unitarians, that gay and lesbian lifestyles are acceptable. That would discriminate against members of religions that are opposed to homosexuality, he said. Bresler said Montgomery County's program is "neutral" and that it simply provides information on homosexuality without forcing students to make judgments. But in his questions to Bresler, Judge Williams implied the system is taking a position by urging sensitivity toward gays and lesbians. "We seem to be tilting toward a particular view," he said. (AP)

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