Comments Regarding Comprehensive Health Education (CHE) Curriculum Framework Changes

Comments Regarding Comprehensive Health Education (CHE) Curriculum Framework Changes

By Peter Sprigg Senior Fellow for Policy Studies



By Peter Sprigg

Senior Fellow for Policy Studies, Family Research Council, Washington, DC

Resident, Montgomery County

Former member, MCPS Citizens' Advisory Committee for Family Life and Human Development (2005-2011)

June 13, 2014

I urge the members of the Montgomery County Board of Education to reject the new Comprehensive Health Education Curriculum Framework, at least with respect to Standard 4 (Family Life and Human Sexuality) and Standard 7 (Disease Prevention and Control).

My objections to this framework and the curriculum it represents fall into several categories.

1) Specific changes to the existing curriculum

A) End of scripted lessons on the controversial topics of sexual orientation and condom use

I fear that the end of the scripted lessons, particularly on sexual orientation, will open the door for misinformation and abuse. A primary reason for the scripting was to prevent the injection of teacher bias into the classroom instruction on this controversial and divisive topic. Now that check will be removed. One specific concern is that some teachers will denigrate students who express their own or their family's disapproval of homosexual conduct based on sincere moral or religious convictions or well-grounded concerns about the health risks of such conduct. Please do not forget that it was the unconstitutional disparagement of traditional religious viewpoints which led to MCPS losing a federal lawsuit over an earlier proposed curriculum. The scripting of the lessons was designed to protect the school district against such legal liability-a protection which will now be unwisely removed.

B) Moving the middle school lesson on sexual orientation from Grade 8 to Grade 7

In my view, Grade 8 was already too young to introduce this controversial and divisive subject into the curriculum. If the subject of minority sexual orientations is to be addressed by the school curriculum at all, it should only be at the high school level. Middle schoolers are just at the beginning of puberty. It is more than enough for them to be taught about the changes happening to their bodies, and the basic facts of human reproduction. Moving a lesson on "sexual orientation" from Grade 8 to Grade 7 only makes a bad situation worse.

2) Aspects of the curriculum not mentioned or explained in the published "framework"

Reports from the meetings of the Curriculum Advisory Committee (CAC) have indicated that specific lessons may include policies, exercises, or statements that raise disturbing questions. For example:

A) MCPS plans to abolish "mothers" and "fathers." All use of these gender-specific terms will reportedly be eliminated from the curriculum, and replaced by vague, non-specific terms such as "caregiver" or "important person in your life." Such a change has the effect of denigrating the importance of biological parents in a child's life, and denying the unique contributions that and a mother and a father, separately and in union with each other, make to the development of, and as role models for, a child.

B) The curriculum reportedly includes "reflection questions" which constitute a mix of ideological indoctrination and intrusive inquiry into the personal views of students. One question promotes activism in support of homosexual and transgender behaviors by asking "What you can do to ensure your school has a safe and accepting environment for all sexual orientation and gender identities?"

Another asks, "What are two benefits of coming out?" Will the curriculum also ask about the potential harms of coming out-such as the fact that the earlier a young person "comes out" as homosexual, the more likely they are to attempt suicide? (Remafedi, G, Farrow, JA, Deisher, RW, (1991) "Risk factors for attempted suicide in gay and bisexual youth." Pediatrics 87:869-875.)

Questions such as these seem to be inconsistent with the assurances that Superintendent Joshua P. Starr gave to the Board in his memo of May 13, 2014, when he said, "Personal or general religious beliefs are not included in the standards and are not an appropriate topic for discussion," adding that "teachers will continue to emphasize the importance of respect for all individuals, as well as all religious beliefs."

C) The curriculum also reportedly includes statements such as, "Children are not born hating. They learn to hate and fear from messages they receive while growing up." Another says, "Like any other prejudice, homophobia is learned."

A video approved as a resource by the CAC says, "Bullying comes from homophobia. People are homophobic because they worry that their sexuality will be changed by communicating with a gay person." The latter, I might note, is a bizarre and entirely speculative point without scientific support. And while "bullying" of any type should not be tolerated, the Board should be aware of recent research indicating that school bullying programs may actually be counter-productive, leading to more actual bullying, not less (Seokjin Jeong and Byung Hyun Lee, "A Multilevel Examination of Peer Victimization and Bullying Preventions in Schools," Journal of Criminology 2013, Article ID 735397,

While it is legitimate to teach the importance of treating each individual with dignity and respect, terms like "hate" and "homophobia" are all too often used as slanderous slurs against anyone who sincerely disapproves of homosexual conduct, no matter how civil they are in their expression of that opinion. Indeed, the apostles of "tolerance" for homosexual and transgender individuals have become increasingly intolerant of anyone who dissents from their politically correct orthodoxy, be it a corporate CEO, a reality TV star, or a humble small businessman in the wedding industry. Those who are merely students in middle or high school will be especially vulnerable to such pressure.

3) Flaws in the existing curriculum which have apparently gone uncorrected in the revisions

A) The curriculum will continue to declare that a homosexual orientation is "innate," implying that it is inborn, biologically determined, and immutable. This is in complete defiance of the best scientific evidence. For example, Britain's Royal College of Psychiatrists recently (April 2014) declared that "sexual orientation is determined by a combination of biological and postnatal environmental factors [emphasis added]. . . . It is not the case that sexual orientation is immutable or might not vary to some extent in a person's life."

B) The curriculum will continue to deny that a person's sexual orientation can ever change, thus ignoring and/or denigrating the lived experience of ex-gay persons who have ceased engaging in homosexual conduct, overcome their same-sex attractions, and abandoned a "gay" identity. This is particularly harmful given the evidence of high levels of fluidity in sexual orientation among adolescents (Ritch Savin-Williams, "Who's Gay? Does it Matter?" Current Directions in Psychological Science 15, No. 1 (2006), 40-44).

C) The Disease Prevention and Control portions of the curriculum will continue to downplay the extremely high rates of HIV infection among men who have sex with men-such as the fact that among adolescent and adult males ages 13-19, 94.9% of all new HIV infections in 2011 were in males who had sexual contact with other males (Center for Disease Control, HIV Surveillance in Adolescents and Young Adults,

D) The curriculum will continue to omit the fact that transmission of HIV is far more likely with anal sex than with oral or vaginal sex, conveying the false impression that all three forms of sexual contact carry comparable risks and that condoms are equally effective in reducing the risk of all three. Even a petition from 270 Montgomery County physicians urging that this fact be included was ignored when the 2007 curriculum was adopted.

All of these are serious problems which warrant rejection of the proposed curriculum framework and a return to "the drawing board" to design a curriculum which is age-appropriate, scientifically accurate, free of ideological bias, and genuinely respectful to all.