Thursday, June 30, 2005

Public Comments at the 6-27-05 MCPS-BOE Meeting

Here is the text of ten of the fourteen Public Comments made at the Board of Education meeting Monday evening, June 27, 2005.

First up, John Garza, PFOX & CRC attorney and CRC Vice President:
The agreement between the Board of Education and the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum and Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays is historic and unprecedented. Never before have parents been able to stop implementation of a new curriculum. Never before has a school board fallen prey to this extent to special interest groups bent on sexualizing our children and espousing intolerance toward certain religious sects.

It was our goal one to stop the curriculum, two disband the citizens advisory committee, and three convince Dr. Weast and the members of the Board to eliminate all discrimination in future curricula. Having achieved goals one and two, we turn our attention to goal three.

The Reverend Martin Luther King said quote we must first love those who we would change. We will now lovingly help develop a curriculum that is not offensive to all.

We trust Dr. Weast and the Board of Education have the desire, intelligence, and ability to create a new curriculum that is lawful, non-offensive, and one which will lead to future harmony among all the parties. Therefore, as Vice President of the CRC and attorney for both the CRC and PFOX, and on behalf of the Board of Directors of the CRC and the Board of Directors of PFOX, and on behalf of the thousands and thousands of supporters in Montgomery County of both CRC and PFOX and all like-minded children, parents, teachers, and citizens, I have only one thing to say to each of you. We love you. Please allow us to be friends. Send us a curriculum that's not offensive. Thank you.
The next speaker was Jason Tseng, Churchill High School alumni and University of Richmond student. It was Jason's idea to organize students to tell the Board of Education their own views of the debate about the health education curriculum here in Montgomery County Public Schools. Thank you, Jason, for your leadership!
My name is Jason Tseng. I am a 2004 graduate of Winston Churchill High School. I first want to commend you all on your courage and integrity in which you have tried to implement a truly comprehensive, and inclusive health ed curriculum. I want to urge you to continue to push for a similarly responsible curriculum in the future.

I am also a gay student. And let me be the first to tell you that growing up gay in MCPS is not easy. LGBTQ students regularly face blatant discrimination and homophobia. I, personally can recount being subjected to perpetual name-calling, teasing, bullying, homophobic vandalism and even physical violence and threats. The CRC and PFOX will try and tell you that LGBTQ students don’t feel marginalized. Well, I challenge you to not take your information second-handed. I want to urge this board to take the first step in combating homophobia by creating a truly inclusive health ed curriculum.

In this debate over health ed, groups like the CRC and PFOX, have tried to impress on this Board their rights as parents, as tax-paying and voting citizens of Montgomery County. However, student rights have largely been ignored. We as students are a profoundly disenfranchised group, and the most affected constituency. We don’t pay taxes, we can’t vote, lawmakers and government officials have no reason to listen our voices. Where can students turn to ensure that their interests are taken care of? You. Right here. This forum. They have entrusted you with their education. Their well-being. And their future. Do the right thing and stand up for those who don’t have a voice. Your students.
After Jason, we heard the following comments from Karen Troccoli, former member of the now disbanded Citizen's Advisory Committee.
My name is Karen Troccoli. I am a former member of the Citizens Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development. I have worked in the field of teen pregnancy prevention for more than a decade for organizations such as the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. I co-authored a book for teens on sex and contraception and have a Masters in Public Health degree in Maternal and Child Health. I also am the parent of two children in the Montgomery County Public schools. I am here to urge the Board of Education to reinstate "Protect Yourself," the condom demonstration video that was added to the tenth grade curriculum and then withdrawn because of the lawsuit.

The video was added because school health teachers asked for a resource that instructed students on how to use condoms properly. Why? Because sexually active teenagers who use condoms correctly and consistently reduce their risks for pregnancy and disease. Indeed, nearly half of high school students in the U.S. have had sexual intercourse (ranging from 33% of 9th graders to 62% of 12th graders). Unfortunately 3 out of 10 girls become pregnant at least once before the age of 20, and of the 19 million sexually transmitted disease (STD) infections that occur annually, almost half of them are among youth ages 15 to 24.

Some who have opposed the video assert that teaching teens how to use condoms will cause more of them to have sex. On the contrary, rigorous, respected research by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy and others has found that comprehensive sex education -- which includes information about contraception – does not increase the likelihood that teens will have sex or the frequency with which they have sex. In fact, many such programs actually delay first sex, increase contraceptive use and/or reduce the number of sexual partners among sexually active teens. Teaching proper condom usage is particularly important because teens use condoms more than any other contraceptive method.

The vast majority of Montgomery County high school students and their parents support including this video in the family life instruction. Ninety-nine percent of tenth graders’ parents "opted-in" to having their children see the video when it was pilot tested. Those students who viewed "Protect Yourself" rated it very favorably. Those parents who do not want their children to see the video can, as always, elect to “opt out” of that part of the curriculum. However, the Board should not allow those parents to, in effect, opt everyone’s children out by preventing the video from being used in high schools.

I applaud the Board of Education for promoting students' health by supporting the initial development and use of this video in our high schools. I urge the Board to honor its commitment by reinstating "Protect Yourself" into the curriculum as soon as possible.

Thank you.
The next speaker was Jeff Rezmovic. Jeff, a Churchill alumni, just moved back here after getting his college degree at the University of Michigan. He was a big help in organizing the students who spoke at this Board of Education meeting.

Hello, my name is Jeff Rezmovic. I am a 2001 graduate from Winston Churchill and a 2005 graduate from the University of Michigan. I didn't realize until I left for college just how lucky I was to have been a part of Montgomery County public schools. I became even more excited and proud of Montgomery County when I learned of the plans to make health curriculum here more comprehensive.

I could relate story after story to you about college students who made poor decisions, simply because they did not have all of the information. As a result, they must now cope with sexually transmitted disease, pregnancy, or even AIDS. Abstinence-only education has failed these people, and it would fail Montgomery County Public Schools as well. Decisions that MCPS students will make in their everyday lives are affected by decisions that are made in rooms like these, and this Board has an obligation to make sure that those decisions are ones that will be smart for students.

We also must refuse to let Montgomery County's sex education curriculum become a mouthpiece for hatred and bigotry. And let's make no mistake about it, that is exactly what we're up against. Some extremists want to teach Montgomery County children that homosexuality is a disease that can be cured with reparative therapy, a claim that runs counter to any and all credible scientific and psychological organizations. These students need more allies, not more alienation. I thank the Board for the affirmative efforts it has taken to promote tolerance in our schools this far, and I encourage you to continue to do so, and to let teachers teach the facts. Thank you.

Next up was me, Christine Grewell, one of the co-founders of I am an MCPS parent and an alumni of Charles W. Woodward High School in Rockville.
Good evening Superintendent Weast, President O'Neill, and Members of the Board of Education.

I represent and I'm here to support your efforts to update the MCPS health education curriculum, to bring it in line with current medical and scientific findings.

As you know is a group of MCPS parents, students, teachers, alumni, and County residents who are very concerned about the current state of the health curriculum. We support the now rescinded curriculum, realize the questionable teacher resources were not part of it, and are certain that pilot testing would have corrected any problems with it. We want you to know that we STILL stand solidly behind your efforts.

More than ever it is necessary for you to maintain your commitment to fact-based, comprehensive and inclusive health education. The eyes of the nation are upon you. The future of our children is, in a good part, in your hands.

The decision to go back to the drawing board left many disappointed, however, we understand your position given the litigation. plans to increase our support over the summer and fall so we are better equipped to help you face formidable opponents, many of whom are from outside our community and desire to take us back to using the unethical practice of "reparative therapy." We must not go back to those dark days when suicide and hiding in the closet were the most common choices for non-heterosexual people.

Our students are our future, all of them. We are optimistic about these bright young people. We are certain that if they are given objective facts in a classroom that values critical thinking, they will make the right decisions for themselves. Many studies have shown that abstinence will be the choice for some students but not all. Therefore, you must write a health curriculum that gives all our students all the knowledge they need in order to be as safe as possible. And we know you can do it since you already did.

Thank you having the courage to confront this issue and do the right thing for all MCPS students. Thank you.
The next speaker was Alexander Kovalchuk, a student attending Churchill High School.
Members of the Board,

I am a student in your school system. Your decisions are assumed to be objective and informed and your goals are likewise presume to include a modern informative and objective education for all.

We are born into the age of the Internet. You cannot censor the Internet, which holds a wealth of information beyond any school or textbook. We log on and we learn. You cannot stop us from knowing the truth. In fact, it is your job to ensure that we are taught the truth so we can become educated and functional adults.

Health is the most important thing any of us have and it is often greatly neglected. You must instill a deep understanding and somber attitude towards it. That way, we can protect ourselves and others. One thing that is most appalling is that much of sexual education is optional. The idea is obviously not to promote sex, but to show the consequences of it and how to minimize them. It can happen and often it will happen.

Just as with terrorism we can only plan ahead and to do so we must keep our children in the know. I can assure you that no child has found out about sex and has had, to quote Lewis Black, "a moral epileptic seizure." If you allow children to become greatly ignorant on these maters, they may have sex without even knowing that they shouldn't. How can they protect themselves from something they don't even know exists?

Just as a blind man cannot see without functioning eyes, an ignorant child cannot protect his or herself without a functioning education. We deserve to be safe. Thank you.

The next speaker was Matilda Young, a Churchill alumni attending Rice University.
As a student, I was very familiar with the concept of fearing what I didn't understand. Fear and loathing are two words that I associate closely with physics. In middle school, I didn't understand why a boy at my first middle school dance said I looked like a drag queen. I've grown a lot since then, but there still are a lot of things I don't understand. For example, I don't understand what is so especially lascivious about a condom on a cucumber.

As a member of students at Rice University teaching sex education to college students, I can tell you that there are a lot of sexually active teenagers out there who don't know how to properly use a condom. This information would save them from contracting dangerous diseases, and I seriously doubt they became sexually active because of suggestive vegetables. Not only do I believe that this new curriculum would further goals to teach students safer sexual practices, but I also believe that it would alleviate student fears.

What the people who oppose this act do not understand is that sexual education is not about right or wrong - it is about reality. The reality is - students will be sexually active. The reality is - many students will question their sexuality. With the knowledge that sexuality and homosexuality are a reality, and not some terrible myth lurking deep within themselves, they will have one thing less to fear. I ask this then - of all of us - as parents, as peers, and as people of this community. Don't fear the cucumber. Don't fear your children. Don't make them fear themselves.

A speaker from the CRC followed Matilda. If the CRC wants to provide transcripts of their speakers, they may do so but I don't have the time or desire to do so.

Then we heard from Jordan Barker, who attends Churchill High School along with Alex. Jordan said:
Sex. Sex is a word that makes both teens and parents very uncomfortable. But the fact is that many teenagers in high school are having sex. And parents can deny that their kids are having sex, but some teenagers are and it is very important that everyone knows how to be safe.

Many teens will not tell their parents that they are having sex and by teaching condom use and other forms of birth control in health class, the teens of our area will at least have the knowledge to protect themselves if they decide to. Teaching abstinence is still important because it is the safest and best choice. Yet it is irresponsible to try to ignore the obvious truth of sex being an action in our community of teens. Teaching condom use can reduce unwanted pregnancy and disease in teens having sex. AIDS, herpes, syphilis and many other STDs are possible results of having sex and condoms can reduce the chance of getting them as well as getting pregnant.

Teaching teens how to use a condom doesn’t mean that they’re being taught to have sex or that it is OK. Instead it is teaching teens how to be safe if they make a bad decision. Teen sex is a bad decision but why not prevent a worse one by teaching them to be safer? Condoms are a safety protection for an action which can damage the lives of our teens.

Letitia (Tish) Hall followed Jordan. Tish is a member of and the mother of 3 MCPS students.
When this board announced recently that it had voted to cancel the proposed revisions to the Family Life Curriculum, the leadership of CRC was quoted in the local papers as looking forward to helping this board write an "objective" curriculum. "Objective" means: Uninfluenced by emotions or personal prejudices; based on observable phenomena. There is good evidence that the CRC and its ally, PFOX, do not know exactly what objectivity is.

Position statements on the CRC website affirm that their idea of objectivity is the inclusion of highly subjective information about "ex-gay" persons and "reparative" therapy. Data based on observable phenomena convinced mainstream medical groups to stop trying to "cure" homosexuality a generation ago. The American Medical Association opposes reparative therapy because decades of reparative therapy demonstrated that it doesn't work and that it harms people. PFOX and CRC are asking you to ignore this objective medical data in order to present their emotions and personal prejudices.

Meanwhile, the CRC is trying to undermine some of the strengths of public education. In a page titled "Red Flags To Watch For," the CRC website warns that tolerance, diversity, and anti-harassment policies are all signs that our schools are being influenced by radical homosexual activists.

MCPS has a zeal for excellence and a tenacious commitment to diversity and that has made this one of the finest public school systems in the nation. We educate children from all over the world and all over the socio-economic spectrum and we send them to universities all over the country. Yet the CRC leadership holds that this commitment all our students is really the first step in some insidious "Homosexual Agenda." This is misinformation of the most corrupt nature.

Please do not lose sight of the objective curriculum our students really need. Do not present intolerance as a balanced, alternative view.

Tish was followed by three speakers who do not support the BOE's health education curriculum, including at least one member of the CRC. When they were finished, Andrew Bennett, a recent Walt Whitman High School graduate and former student representative of the CAC made the closing public comment of the meeting. He said:
Good evening members of the Board of Education. My name is Andrew Bennett. I was a student member on the Citizens’ Advisory Committee this last year. It was a great honor and privilege to serve all of you in that capacity. And I would like to point out that it’s quite interesting that every single student that has come before you this evening has come in support of the curriculum as it was, has come in support of teaching about tolerance and equality, about teaching how everybody in this school system, all students are equal, and that the school system should see each of us as equal.

I am not a gay student. I'm not coming to you as a gay student. I'm coming to you as a representative of students because that’s what you appointed me to be.

If you look at the Student's Rights and Responsibilities Handbook, it says quite clearly, "All students and staff will conduct themselves in a manner that promotes mutual respect for others. You have the right to be treated fairly and equally." These are your policies.

I recently graduated Walt Whitman High School and it was an honor to be in Montgomery County schools for all of my schooling from kindergarten to 12th grade. And I always loved how we taught equality, how we learned about Black History Month. We learned about Hispanic History.

And now to see the Board of Education settling with intolerance, to settle and say, "Oh, it’s OK." I don’t know what you settled with and neither does anybody else in the room except for Mr. Garza and you. But I would ask you to look closely at what you’re doing, what you’re teaching my fellow students – that it's OK to say those things and it's morally reprehensible to me. And I would like you to consider that most seriously.

Thank you.
But we are not done yet, because there were also comments made by members of the Board of Education that addressed the curriculum and the community members who so eloquently and passionately expressed their support to the BOE's efforts to teach tolerance and safety to MCPS students.

Board member Gabe Romero said:
"...I also wanted to thank the community for all the public comments on the health curriculum tonight. It was very well done so I congratulate all the community. I'm also very glad to see that we are moving on to the business of education of our children. We put this little obstacle behind us and we're moving on so thank you very much."
Board member Nancy Navarro said:
..."And I also want to thank the community for coming out and expressing your support in all levels. And I just want to reiterate the fact that we are listening so thank you."
Board President Patricia O'Neill said:
"I would just like to comment. Someone mentioned that the document, they hadn't seen it, the settlement document. Well, it’s a public document so I'm not sure, but through our public information office you could access that information. The other piece is that Dr. Haughey and I met this afternoon to kind of look forward prospectively and it's our intention at the July 6 meeting for the Board to have a discussion on the reconstitution of the Citizens’ Advisory Committee. So we put this litigation behind us and move forward with the revisions to the health curriculum through our central office."

And finally, Superintendent Weast told us:
"Madame President. Can I say something?

To the last speaker who served on the committee. Yes.

There's a provision in this agreement that says, 'Nothing contained in this Agreement shall be construed to diminish or enlarge the legal right of MCPS to develop, revise or implement curriculum, including curriculum that provides information on sexual variations and promotes tolerance of others regardless of sexual orientation.'

So that is a key component of this agreement. And we will be moving forward. I have instructed Dr. Lacey to move forward now, now that we have a signed agreement. Remember, this was two lessons 45 minutes each in length. And we will move forward on those two lessons. We're not talking about a comprehensive program. We will continue the program that we have had and we will work on these two lessons and we will make sure that they are cogent and fit according to this particular article and have teacher lessons and materials that go with them that are congruent with those particular 45 minute lessons."
All of us at send our most sincere gratitude to each participant in this demonstration to the Board of Education. From the sage and passionate words of these six outstanding MCPS students, it is easy to know that MCPS is indeed one of the finest school systems in the country. This group of parents will not allow a handful of doubters keep MCPS from continuing to TEACH THE FACTS to our students.

Christine Grewell


Blogger Kay2898 said...

Well it seems that Garza and his charges Recall and PFOX are not too happy now since he made his not to humble remarks.

Never happy from one day to next it seems. When are the two groups going to look at what their attorney negotiated for them and now realize what they have..not much?

June 30, 2005 2:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wish in one hand and CRC in the other

Montgomery Sentinel May 12, 2005
Editor's Notebook
Briam J Karem

The Internet is an amazing place.

Within three minutes of being on-line my teenage son was hit with about 30 ads for enlarging several different areas of his body, not to mention ads from lonely women, girls who seem to enjoy having other people watch them in various states of undress or engaging in several different bodily functions, several ads for obtaining prescription drugs without a prescription, four Viagra ads, two Levitra ads, one ad to meet lonely gay/lesbians in our area and one online gambling company.

Thank heavens we had the Spam filter on.

With all of this information available to anyone, not to mention what my son can see in a movie, or on cable or broadcast television, not to mention what kids talk about in school, on the playground, in the huddle and at the bowling alley and one has to wonder if the only topic of conversation for our children is about some exotic body function or excretion.

Imagine then a seven-minute video being presented in sex education class at your local high school that teaches children how to properly use a condom.

Many kids will look at it as "lame" and many others will merely use the seven minutes to take a quick nap.

But your friendly folks at the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum and the Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays see evil that could threaten the Republic either in this film or the rest of the public school's sex education curriculum. Thus they've filed suit as they pursue a litigious outcome to their battle cry against sex education in a school environment they claim is proselytizing for homosexuality.

Judge Alexander Williams Jr. proved to be a friendly face and granted a temporary restraining order and Dr. Jerry Weast, proving that knee-jerk reactions are always commonplace after a court order, suspended the teachings and removed the film titled "Protect Yourself" from distribution.

On the one hand I love seeing the Board of Education challenged, but on the other hand not by the reactionaries who hide under a cloak of level-headedness.

A few facts about all this should be enlightening. CRC Vice President and attorney John Garza has children. But they don't attend public school.

If they did, they could opt out of the sex education class. But that's too darn bothersome for the members of the CRC and PFOX who believe a child who opts out will "self-identify" him or herself and that opting out of the course would actually lead to segregation.

Most likely what would happen is that a kid opting out of the class would be envied by his peers for being smart enough to get out of a class that doesn't teach as much as can be learned on the Internet or at the mall's food court on a Friday night.

I have much more faith in the teenagers of Montgomery County than the adults causing this stir.

Garza offers a mind-numbing defense for his group's move. He calls the sex education an "indoctrination program" and says that to exercise their right not to go into the class, kids would have to exercise free speech rights that they shouldn't be forced to exercise. "Part of free speech is the right to remain silent," he claims.

If only he'd take his own advice.

The problem with the CRC and PFOX continues to be the hypocrisy inherent in burying your head in the sand.

"Part of free speech is the right to an education that allows you to get knowledge," Garza claims. What Garza is really upset about is that the Board of Education isn't imparting the spin on the knowledge that he wants.

He's no friend of free speech nor is the CRC and PFOX.

The truth is there are going to be children who will understand the importance of abstinence and there will be children who don't. The goal is to keep down sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted teen pregnancies.

CRC and PFOX, while they claim to want nothing more than level-headedness actually, in their efforts, keep important knowledge from those who need it the most - those living on the fringe and in danger of falling through the cracks.

June 30, 2005 2:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So the double dippin' lawyer says, "Never before have parents been able to stop implementation of a new curriculum," while that Board fella says, "We put this little obstacle behind us and we're moving on so thank you very much."

Hmmmmm. Interesting!

Aunt Bea

June 30, 2005 4:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For Garza who is on payroll of CRC/PFOX... (I guess to pay for his children's private school education)

From Webster: enhance
to increase or improve in value, quality, desirability, or attractiveness

Well of course that was before CRC/PFOX actually read closely what they signed and agreed to in that $36,000 exchange that Garza negotiated along with Liberty Counsel to try ot stick it to BOE and taxpayers.

I might not feel too bad now knowing CRC/PFOX did not do so well and are so unhappy.

June 30, 2005 5:29 PM  
Anonymous Alex K. said...

Gah. These hard-core anti-Education Christians (and the like) are driving me crazy.

Allowing children to abstain from sex-ed is digression.

With-holding vital information is just plain stupid.

If a child doesn't know what sex is or STDs are thanks to these people, then what does the child do if he/she accidentally get into it?

They cannot protect themselves from what they don't know.

And make no mistake, most everyone part-takes in sex, otherwise we would not be here today.

It's like allowing Hippie parents to opt their kids out of D.A.R.E. activities and drug education.

If the kids aren't taught that drugs are bad and have horrible consequences, they may be more likely to use them.

If the kids aren't taught that sex can result in uncurable diseases and or birth, they may be more likely to experience either or both.

It is inane to hold such information back.


I doubt little James comes home and his Pastor father whips out a condom and shows him how to put it on correctly. Oh wait, some of them don't even believe in protecting themselves!

"Marriage" is a lousy excuse, because married couples don't always want to have children and I'm sure they're lustful from time to time.


July 01, 2005 10:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A speaker from the CRC followed Matilda. If the CRC wants to provide transcripts of their speakers, they may do so but I don't have the time or desire to do so.

What, no desire to present even a pretense of balance? Tsk, tsk....

Orin Ryssman

July 02, 2005 11:57 AM  
Blogger JimK said...

The "other side's" speakers can be summed up as: "Being gay ain't normal, and we're against it." No need to do a lot of work to record their little speeches. They can post it on their web site if they want, we don't have any obligation or motive to publicize their message.


July 02, 2005 12:52 PM  
Anonymous Tish said...

Dear Orin, if you have watched the broadcast or the re-broadcasts of the meeting, you will know that two of the CRC speakers, Retta Brown and Dr. Ruth Jacobs were barely coherent. Dr. Jacobs feels very strongly that the unit on STIs needs to be updated. I have heard Dr. Jacobs speak before the board twice and it is my impression that she is very umcomfortable with public speaking. I suspect that she is better at making her point in one-to-one conversation. I sat beside her as she spoke and her written copy was covered with hand-written corrections and additions. She also displayed charts which she didn't explain. I do not envy anyone the job of transcribing her comments either from the BOE broadcast or from the written commentary she was required to provide. However, if you have taped the BOE broadcast and you are willing to tackle it, go for it.

Rhetta Brown, as usual, just doesn't make sense.

The third untranscribed speaker basically said that she objects to her children being taught anything that she doesn't agree with.

July 02, 2005 1:11 PM  
Blogger Christine said...

If you are truly interested in hearing what the CRC speakers had to say, I'd suggest you contact the CRC website. I'm sure if you use goolge carefully, you'll have no trouble finding what you seek.

Christine Grewell

July 02, 2005 7:00 PM  
Blogger Maryam Balbed said...

Nancy Navarro is committed to fact based education, and needs to return to the Board of Education as an elected member.

July 13, 2006 3:31 AM  

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