They came armed with stacks of fliers and handouts, and they were joined by national advocates for abstinence. But opponents of Arlington schools? new Family Life Education textbooks didn?t persuade school board members.
?I was disappointed in their discussion,? said Bridget Maher, a representative of the Family Research Council called in by local parent Twila Gavin. Over the protests of Maher and some others, Arlington school board members voted unanimously to approve the Family Life textbooks, along with other new texts for health classes for elementary through high school.
Most of the health textbooks received no complaints. But one of the books for ninth grade Family Life Education, or ?sex ed? classes, proved controversial.
Teachers will use the volume ?A Teen?s Guide to Sexuality,? published by Meeks/Heit, for certain lessons in class. But Arlington Public Schools will not issue copies for students to take home.
OBJECTIONS TO the decision ran the gamut at Thursday?s meeting, with some speakers objecting for to the books for opposite reasons. Carol Ciofalo, an obstetrician and parent of a 13-year-old, said the book was too clinical and boring for ninth grade students. Meanwhile Cathy Graham, a former abstinence educator and member of Concerned Women for America, said the book was so graphic she had to stop reading it in order to preserve her values. Far from being too clinical, Graham said, the books are actually sexually arousing.
But Kathy Grove, assistant superintendent for instruction, defended the books. Chapter 10 = shows various methods of birth control along with line drawings showing proper use. ?They are not titillating,? said Grove. ?If anything, they are clinical.?
School board member Dave Foster said he understood why some parents objected to certain parts of the book. For instance, one section informs students that a 12-pack of condoms can be purchased for $5-15. That information is inappropriate, Foster said, and conflicts with the book?s own claim that lessons on birth control are intended to help students ?prepare for adulthood, when you might choose to marry and plan a family.?
Those reservations were enough to lead Foster to call for a delay in the board?s decision. Instead, he said, the schools should take another 60 days to reexamine the books.
But he found no support for a delay among other board members, and in the end Foster joined the rest of the board in approving the books. ?If we have an all-or-nothing decision tonight, then I have to go with the all,? he said.
BOARD MEMBERS MAY not have heard the end of objections. After the meeting, Gavin contemplated filing complaints with the state Board of Education. State officials could rule that ?A Teen?s Guide to Sexuality? is out of compliance with mandates that sexual education texts must be abstinence-based.
?There?s a real difference between abstinence first, abstinence only and abstinence plus,? said Sara Pfeiffer, an Alexandria resident and member of Concerned Women for America. Schools should be teaching abstinence only, she said, because the abstinence-plus-contraception information in books like ?A Teen?s Guide to Sexuality? sends students a mixed-message.
Arlington resident Judy Wong said it goes beyond sending a mixed message. ?It entices kids to be sexually active,? she said.
Not everyone at Thursday?s meeting agreed. Claire Cifaloglio, an Arlington Human Services pediatrician and mother of a 16-year-old girl, expressed her ?wholehearted support? for the textbooks. The books provide necessary information for students dealing with sexuality, she said. ?They need our help, and those who have the assets to refrain from those behaviors need our support,? said Cifaloglio.
Grove too said it was important to give students not just information on abstinence but also more clinical information. ?While probably most of the people in this room are under regular medical care, that?s not true for all of our students,? said Grove. Board member Libby Garvey agreed. ?In fact, what you don?t know can kill you,? she said.
PARENTS WILL have the option to keep their children out of any lessons in the Family Life Education curriculum that they deem inappropriate or offensive to their beliefs. They can also remove students from the Family Life Education course entirely.
Grove said with the addition of the new textbooks, school staff is recommending that information on opting out of the program be mailed directly to parents rather than being sent home with students. That will ensure parents have the information, Grove said.
It?s not enough to tell parents they can remove their children from class if they don?t like the materials, said Foster. But School board chair Elaine Furlow said the option provides a good ?safety valve? for the controversial issue.
Grove cautioned concerned parents not to jump to conclusions about the Family Life Education classes based on the information in the supplemental text. ?The curriculum determines which sections of the textbooks we use and to what extent we use them,? she said. The main health textbook contains no information on contraception at all.