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Advocates on both sides are as passionate as ever: SIECUS controversy report 2004-05 school year.

The 2004-05 school year brought many of the same issues and players to local debates around sexuality education in our nation's schools as in previous years. Opponents of comprehensive sexuality education continued their work to shelter young people from information and skills that they believe will encourage sexual activity. Their constant targets are sexuality education curriculum that include information on contraception; programs or materials that mention lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ) individuals; books or videos deemed "sexually explicit;" and organizations such as Planned Parenthood that provide medically accurate sexuality education to many school districts across the country.

Despite these ongoing attacks on high quality sexuality education and the current political climate in which the Bush Administration favors and finances the abstinence-only-until-marriage approach, advocates for more inclusive and comprehensive programs continue to fight on the local level. Parents, students, school board members, supportive organizations, and public health professionals have all furthered the cause of comprehensive sexuality education this past school year. They have challenged restrictive abstinence-only programs, presented school officials with public health data and research, and advocated for the rights of students.

SIECUS tracked 153 controversies in 38 states in the 2004-05 school year. This number represents a steady increase over the past three years. Similar to recent years, controversies have centered on the focus of sexuality education curricula; the specific information found in books, textbooks, pamphlets, videos, and other materials; and the appropriate role of outside organizations and educators. Other continuing trends include the disproportionate focus on LGBTQ issues and the increasing role of state policy-makers in local sexuality education decisions.


The majority of controversies that SIECUS follows each year centers on local disputes about sexuality education curricula. In many cases parents or community members, emboldened by the current administration's policies, criticize programs that are more inclusive (though often still far short of comprehensive) than the abstinence-only-until-marriage programs they would prefer. While these cases bring about all kinds of compromises, there are still advocates of medically accurate sexuality education across the nation who stand strong against the barrage of complaints.

Montgomery County, MD: A Noteworthy Example

One particular story that unfolded just outside our nation's capital highlights some of the common themes and most important trends in this debate. SIECUS has been tracking the debate around sexuality education in Montgomery County, MD since April 2002. After nearly three years of careful consideration and research, the Montgomery County School Board decided in November 2004 to update its Family Life and Human Development Program to include a video demonstrating proper condom use and revisions allowing teachers to initiate conversations about sexual orientation. The revised curriculum had been developed by a Citizens Advisory Committee, has passed through all of the appropriate channels of approval in the district, and had gained the support of school officials. Nonetheless, the school board quickly began to hear from a small group of parents who were unhappy with the changes to the curriculum. Suddenly, Montgomery County was dealing with two of the very issues that are at the center of so many controversies: contraception (condoms in particular) and sexual orientation.

Like many parents across the country, this small group of parents was concerned that talking to young people about how to protect themselves from pregnancy and STDs negates any message of abstinence in a sexuality education program and may lead to an increase in sexual behavior. Although research has consistently shown that these fears are unfounded, parents' objections to sexuality education programs often center around the inclusion of information about contraceptives, condom demonstrations, or the availability of condoms in schools.

Over the past few years, SIECUS has also tracked a continual rise in the number of controversies sparked over LGBTQ issues. These controversies take the form of opposition to student groups, diversity trainings, anti-bullying campaigns that include LGBTQ individuals, and the censoring of materials or curricula that even mention sexual orientation (see box on page 10 for more information on these controversies). In Montgomery County, district officials were accused of presenting a "pro-homosexual" agenda. (1) They responded to the criticism saying, "Historically, we've avoided this issue in not a very educated way. Homosexuality is part of the world we live in. There's no moral judgment there. But we've been pretending it doesn't exist, sweeping it under the rug, and it's good we're going to address it finally. (2)

When parents object to curricula, school officials often remind the community that parents can remove their children from any part of class instruction that they object to--this is referred to as an "opt-out" policy. In Montgomery County, school officials went a step further and promised that the new curriculum would only be piloted to students whose parents had signed a permission slip--this is referred to as an "opt-in" policy. (3)

Still, this was not enough to please parents opposed to the revised curriculum and they chose a tactic growing in popularity amongst local advocates--they enlisted the help of outside advocacy groups. In March 2005 the parents, now organized as a group named Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum (CRC), held a meeting for others in the community. Featured speakers included Robert Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute at Concerned Women for America and Peter Sprigg, senior director of policy studies at the Family Research Council (FRC) and director of FRC's Center for Marriage and Family Studies. Both Concerned Women for America and FRC are national conservative organizations that adamantly support abstinence-only-until-marriage programs and view homosexuality as a sin. At the meeting Sprigg explained to parents that ideas such as "homosexuals are seriously disadvantaged by discrimination in our society" and that "homosexuality is harmless," are simply myths. He went on to say that homosexuality is a threat to "public health." (4)

CRC also enlisted the help of Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX), a national organization that supports the practice of "reparative therapy" and encourages gays and lesbians to "leave the homosexual lifestyle." (5) PFOX president, Richard Cohen, has close ties to Reverend Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church and the conservative organization, Focus on the Family. It is also interesting to note that Cohen has been expelled from the American Counseling Association for exploiting the "trust and dependency of clients," and for seeking "to meet [his] personal needs at the expense of clients." (6)

Although many parents enlist the help of outside groups and these groups often threaten litigation, few communities take sexuality education to court. In Montgomery County, however, that is exactly where the debate landed. In May 2005, CRC received pro-bono assistance from The Liberty Counsel, a conservative Florida-based Christian legal group loosely affiliated with Jerry Falwell. They filed a lawsuit against the Montgomery County Public Schools, claiming that allowing discussions about homosexuality to take place in the schools and giving preference to views that are tolerant of homosexuality ignores the views of many students and parents who believe homosexuality is wrong. The lawsuit asked the court to force the school district to include materials from ex-gay groups. (7)

Advocates for comprehensive sexuality education also got organized in Montgomery County. They formed a group called and launched a website of the same name to reach out to parents, community members, and local and national organizations supportive of the revised curriculum.

Despite these efforts, the school system and new curriculum suffered a major defeat in May when a judge issued a temporary order blocking the implementation of the pilot program. The judge explained, "the court is extremely troubled by the willingness of the defendants to venture, or perhaps more correctly, bound, into the crossroads of controversy where religion, morality, and homosexuality converge." (8) The ruling also called for a second hearing to determine whether to extend the order.

Soon after the judge's ruling, the school district pulled the curriculum entirely and decided to start over from scratch by creating a new Citizens Advisory Committee, which will be charged with developing a brand new curriculum. The settlement reached with CRC and PFOX allowed both groups representation on the newly formed committee. New committee members, chosen in October 2005, include representatives from the Montgomery County Council of PTAs; NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland; Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG); and CRC has refused to nominate an eligible representative, but the committee does include Peter Sprigg of FRC, whom PFOX chose as its representative. SIECUS will continue to document the development of the new Montgomery County sexuality education curriculum.

We will also monitor future debates in other communities across the country to determine if these new tactics of taking school districts to court and arguing that intolerance of homosexuality is protected by freedom of religion become a growing trend.

Parents in Other Communities Voice Similar Complaints

Although most communities do not engage in the drawn out legal battle that occurred in Montgomery County, one of the more common challenges teachers and school districts face is objections from parents to the curricula used in their children's sexuality education classes. These challenges often come from conservative parents who will settle for nothing but a strict abstinence-only-until-marriage approach and are concerned that their school's program does not sufficiently focus on abstinence. Other times, such challenges are mounted because parents have specific objections to one or more topics included in classroom instruction.

In May 2005, some parents in Missoula, MT, worried that the eighth grade sexuality education lessons did not emphasize abstinence enough. During this debate, abstinence-only-until-marriage proponents targeted condom effectiveness in an effort to support their call for a stricter curriculum. (9) Despite their concerns, the Board of Education unanimously approved the health curriculum, which stresses abstinence, but also includes a discussion of birth control methods.

In Bristol, CT, the Board of Education made several revisions to the health education curriculum after a group of concerned parents complained about portions of the curriculum that discussed abortion. The school's original response to the complaints was to explain that the course in question was not a requirement and that parents could choose to remove their child from the course. The school then notified parents again when the lessons were being taught and reminded them of their right to remove their child.

In October 2004, however, some of the parents consulted with an attorney and argued that lessons about abortion taught in the "life skills" courses were in violation of state law. The school district decided to allow area parents to review and comment on the middle school health curriculum. The district then revised the curriculum accordingly. According to the Director of the Office of Teaching and Learning, "Thirty-one written comments were received ... Revisions were made." (10)

Although the original complaints revolved around lessons on abortion, one change involved videos that provided information on contraception. Parents complained that this sent a mixed message and undercut other lessons that focused on abstinence. One parent exclaimed, "How are we going to teach abstinence when we show videos showing other options?" (11) In response, the Board of Education voted to discontinue the use of the videos.

School Board Officials Take the Lead

Although school board members and school administrators are most often in the role of responding to parents' concerns, over the past year SIECUS has also tracked some instances in which school officials themselves initiate discussions and debate over sexuality education.

In Berkley, CA, two members of the Health Advisory Committee, convened by the Berkley School Board, put out a call for support of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in the local paper. The two members of the committee began their opinion piece in the Daily Oakland Press with the question, "Berkley parents: Have you had that all-important sex talk with your kids? Do you feel your teen is equipped with the knowledge and personal worth to stand against strong peer pressures to be sexually active?" (12)

These committee members were upset with the newly revised sexuality education curriculum for eighth grade students that covers a range of topics from bullying to pregnancy and the transmission of HIV and other STDs, and discusses both abstinence and contraceptive choices. They also disapproved of a new proposal to allow ninth-grade students to see a condom demonstration video.

In their opinion piece, the members attempted to convince parents to lobby the school board for stricter abstinence-only programming by misrepresenting statistics and citing opinions from a conservative group, Medical Institute for Sexual Health, as fact. They wrote that "Condoms are never a 'safe' choice--they don't offer protection against sexually transmitted diseases and they certainly don't protect children's hearts." (13) The members particularly assailed the effectiveness of condoms against human papilloma virus (HPV) and inaccurately stated that condoms are only 85% effective in preventing pregnancy and the spread of HIV. The piece concluded by offering readers information on where they could review the new curriculum materials and the date and time of the next school board meeting.

Despite the publicity, no parents showed up for the presentation of the new curriculum for grades 4 through 9 and small attendance was expected for the second hearing as well. (14)

In Kelso, WA, the school system is re-examining its abstinence-only policy to the delight of some board members. The curriculum under review was adapted from the state-approved KNOW HIV/STD Prevention Curriculum, but includes very limited information about contraception. According to one board member, the abstinence-only approach is out-of-date and "times have changed." She explained, "Basically, I'm hoping we can do a little more in-depth." (15)

The district held two workshops on the potential change, at which community members were free to voice their concerns. One former graduate of the high school commented that she "didn't get much out of [the curriculum]" and maintained that "To push abstinence I think is excellent, but to act like there's not more going on is ignorant." (16) The meeting was also attended by the director of the local crisis pregnancy center and volunteers from a Vancouver-based abstinence-only group. Despite testimony from doctors at the local health clinic that the lack of birth control and STD education has caused a "really bad situation," these abstinence-only advocates argued that teaching about contraceptives was "aiming low." (17)

This debate comes at the same time that the State Department of Health is reworking its guidelines for sexuality education in the Washington schools. The guidelines focus on abstinence, but also include information on contraception, disease prevention, decision-making skills, and access to health care. Washington state laws do not require schools to teach sexuality education, but do require HIV/AIDS-prevention lessons in grades 5-12. SIECUS will continue to monitor the situation both in Kelso and in Washington State.

In Sioux Falls, SD, prospective school board members also took steps to bring the debate around sexuality education to the front of parents' minds by making it a campaign issue. While most communities are debating what kind of sexuality education they want in their schools, Sioux Falls is still having conversations about whether the subject should be allowed at all. In a forum held among the six candidates for the Sioux Falls School Board, only two candidates wholeheartedly said it should be part of public education, while one candidate said it should not be taught at all.

Another candidate, John Stratman, argued that if it is taught, abstinence should be an integral part of the lesson. Stratman has heavy ties to the abstinence-only community; he is on the Board of Directors of both the Abstinence Clearinghouse, an international agency that advocates for strict abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, and the Alpha Center, a crisis pregnancy center, both of which are run by abstinence-only leader Leslee Unruh. (18) Unruh and her husband donated money to Stratman's campaign. In addition, the anti-abortion Alpha Center wrote about Stratman in its online newsletter stating, "Mr. Stratman is a strong proponent of parents' rights and traditional values, including abstinence education ... His election to the school board would ensure a strong voice for the safety and well-being of our children." (19) One local newspaper suggested that such a mention seemed to blur the lines of election laws as the relevant statue states, "No association or corporation can contribute or attempt to contribute any valuable consideration to any candidate." (20)

Despite the endorsement, Stratman and the other five challenging candidates lost to incumbent Debbie Hoffman. Hoffman believes sexuality education is important and has said that lessons should include medically accurate information that shows the consequences of choices. (21)

Community Leaders Weigh In

Most sexuality education debates involve parents and school board members or other local officials; occasionally, however, key opinion leaders in the community also become involved.

Holyoke, MA has the highest teen birth rate in the state: 82 births per 1,000 teen girls compared to a statewide rate of 23 births per 1,000 teen girls. (22) In an effort to address this problem, the school committee voted to revise its health education curriculum and give sexuality education a higher priority. The school also decided to institute a condom availability program. The program will be piloted in the high schools and will be extended to sixth through eighth grades if it is deemed successful. Students wishing to receive condoms will need to speak to a nurse, who will explain pregnancy, AIDS, abstinence, and that condoms are not 100% effective.

A letter was sent home to parents explaining that they will have the option of preventing their children from obtaining condoms in school. A school physician and Interim Director of Health Education for the Holyoke schools described the need for the program by saying, "we had to do something to combat what we were seeing." (23)

Not everyone agrees with the school's new program, however. The latest opposition comes from the Roman Catholic Bishop of Springfield, who argued that the school system is "an endorser and an enabler of early adolescent sex." (24) In a statement he said, "I am profoundly disappointed and disturbed" and suggested that school officials are reducing sex to "meaningless self-gratification." (25) Despite the opposition, the school intends to go forward with the program.


In addition to sexuality education programs and curricula, books and other materials that may deal with sexuality-related themes are also subject to scrutiny and debate. It is not uncommon for these materials to spark controversies when attempts are made either to use them in sexuality education classes or to ban them from classrooms, school libraries, and public libraries. Such disputes occurred across the country this school year as some parents objected to books and materials they deemed too sexually explicit or graphic and others rallied against censorship.

Revising Textbooks and Pamphlets

One of the decisions that has the most impact on what students will learn in class is the choice of textbooks. Unlike many decisions made at the district level, this choice is often made at the state level, and, not surprisingly, debates frequently ensue. At the end of the 2004 school year the Texas State Board of Education began reviewing new health textbooks. The conservative-dominated board chose to review four books, only one of which mentioned condoms in the text. (26) A coalition formed to demand more comprehensive materials in the health curriculum, citing Texas' abnormally high rates of teen pregnancy and STDs as proof that Texas teens need more information. Advocates of comprehensive sexuality education argued that the books under consideration did not fulfill the Texas state curriculum standard, Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, which requires that students be able to "analyze the effectiveness and ineffectiveness of barrier protection and other contraceptive methods." (27) The controversy began to generate national attention however, when board members demanded changes in the books' references to marriage and sexuality before the approval process could proceed.

Social conservatives on the state school board objected to language in the textbooks, claming certain phrases were used as "stealth" references to gay relationships and attempts to legitimize same-sex unions. (28) Board member Terri Leo led the fight to force textbook publishers to change the term "partners" to "husbands and wives" and to clearly define marriage as a "lifelong union between a husband and a wife." Two publishers, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, a division of Harcourt, Inc. and Glencoe/McGraw-Hill, a division of the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc., agreed to the board's demands that marriage be defined as a "lifelong union between a husband and a wife" and that, when referring to relationships, the words "people" and "individuals" be replaced with "a man and a woman." (29)

This is not the first time conservatives on the board have complained about textbooks or even edited books to conform to their values. In the past, environmentalism has been attacked as conflicting with free-enterprise ideals, and a passage describing the cruelty of slavery was described as "overkill." In one instance, advocates of intelligent design rewrote a sentence that explained that the last ice age took place "millions of years ago." The new version put the last ice age "in the distant past." (30)

The new changes in Texas are particularly alarming to parents and educators across the country because the state is the second-largest market for textbooks in the nation, after California. Publishers will rarely alter text or create new editions for smaller states so books approved in Texas end up in classrooms across the country.

Despite criticism from groups like the American Textbook Council, an independent organization that reviews textbooks, the state board approved the edited health textbooks in November of 2004. The books were scheduled to be in middle and high school classrooms during the 2005-06 school year.

Like textbooks, other printed resources used in classrooms are often also at the center of controversy. Parents in Fairfax County, VA, for example, were concerned that updated sexuality education materials did not emphasize abstinence enough. The board received hundreds of emails from parents worried that new materials, which did not promote a strict abstinence-only-until-marriage message, would encourage promiscuity. One father even urged the board to "keep the schools out of this area entirely." (31)

The controversy focused on two pamphlets that were recommended by an advisory committee of community members, teachers, and administrators, and included information on birth control options. Ultimately, one of the pamphlets, "Birth Control Choices," was discarded because it said abstinence "can range from no sexual touching at all to everything except intercourse." (32) One board member commented, "It sent a mixed message. I think we need to be clear when dealing with kids that abstinence is abstinence." (33) The board instead substituted the pamphlet, "Abstinence 101." The remaining pamphlet on birth control options was changed to remove information on emergency contraception. The board approved these two modified pamphlets in a 10-1 vote.

Reviewing Videos

Like textbooks and materials, videos used in sexuality education are often subject to intense scrutiny. In Point Pleasant, NJ, parents objected to a video shown to sixth-graders that includes discussions of masturbation and homosexuality. The video, What Kids Want to Know About Sex and Growing Up, also covers the topics of anatomy, reproduction, and the emotional and physical changes encountered during puberty.

One parent said, "This film touches on subjects that these children are not even thinking of. I don't need the school to educate my child as far as sex education is concerned. I can do that at home." (34) Parents also objected to the apparent lack of emphasis on abstinence in the video, though the majority of the complaints revolved around the mentions of masturbation and homosexuality. These sections were referred to as "immoral" and "offensive" during a Board of Education meeting. (35)

As a result of the complaints, the Board of Education is planning to review the video and decide whether to replace it. The Superintendent assured parents that whatever decision were made, they would be given the opportunity to view the materials for the class and, if necessary, remove their child from some or all sessions. SIECUS will continue to monitor the situation.

In contrast, the Washoe County, NV Board of Trustees rejected a new abstinence-only video on the grounds that it is "fear-based" and could be "harmful" to students. (36)

The video, entitled The Rules Have Changed: The Teen STD (Sexually Transmitted Disease) Epidemic, was produced by abstinence-only proponent Meg Meeker. The district's sexuality education advisory committee rejected the video in an 8-2 vote; however, nearby Carson City schools adopted the video.

In a letter to the Board of Trustees, one of the advisory committee members explained her opposition to the video: "the over-hyped, fear-based tone was felt to be a turnoff for many teens who most needed to head the abstinence message. Examples of the alarmist format including blood dripping into a sink when a link was drawn between teen suicide rates and teen sexuality." (37)

The majority of the board members present for the vote agreed, and felt the video was not the right choice for the school, and the board voted 3-1 in January 2005 to reject the video. One board member explained, "In several instances throughout the film, ... kids could be led to believe that if you're sexually active, depression can follow and also suicide." The one trustee who voted in favor of the video said that she felt it would be an improvement over the video currently used in the seventh grade, which was created in the late 1980s. She defended the drama of the film and said, "I think the issue should be as real as possible. I don't think you can overly frighten someone if you tell them the truth." (38)

The board will likely vote on the subject again, however, because a number of board members were absent for the original vote and a four vote majority is needed for any formal action. SIECUS will continue to monitor the situation.

Banning Library Resources

Most debates over materials center around those that are used in the classroom, but some focus on those resources that are available to students in the school library. At a school board meeting in Fayetteville, AR, a mother of five voiced complaints about three books in the school library that she felt were too sexually explicit. The books included: The Teenage Guy's Survival Guide, by Jeremy Daldry; as well as It's So Amazing and It's Perfectly Normal, both by Robie Harris. The parent said, "The school district doesn't have the right to circumvent the beliefs I'm giving to my own children." (39) She also said, "These children who've checked out these books have been sexually harassed. Putting extreme content into context does not make it unoffensive." She explained that she has banned her children from using the school libraries for the time being.

District officials responded to the criticisms by pointing out that the books are not used in classroom instruction and are only available in the libraries. Still, the concerned parent filed a petition with the school about the book It's Perfectly Normal. Interestingly, the book is not available in her own children's library, as it was lost; however, she found out about it from Point of View, a Christian radio group, and later learned it was available elsewhere in the district.

As a result of her complaint, the school district created a seven-member committee to review the book It's Perfectly Normal. Each committee member received a copy of the book to review, in effect forcing the school to order six additional copies. The committee decided that the book should be allowed to remain in the schools' libraries, with some limitations. It will remain in general circulation in junior high libraries (though currently there are no copies there) and will be available in parent libraries in middle schools and elementary schools. In middle schools, a student will be allowed to check out the book only with the approval of both an educator and a counselor or administrator.

The concerned parent was not happy with the decision and vowed, "There will be a next step. I'm not sure exactly what that will be." (40) No decision has been made on the remaining two books. SIECUS will continue to monitor the situation.

In Muhlenberg, PA, the school board made a rushed decision to ban The Buffalo Tree, a novel set in a juvenile detention center, and then reinstated the book two months later. At an April school board meeting, in a somewhat dramatic display, an eleventh-grader read a scene from the book set in a communal shower, where an adolescent boy becomes sexually aroused. She followed her reading with the comment, "I am in the eleventh grade and I had to read this junk." (41) In a unanimous vote one hour later, the board pulled the book from the curriculum.

Following the decision, students, teachers, and parents began circulating petitions and publishing letters to the editor in the local paper defending the book. At the next school board meeting 200 people from the 10,000-person town arrived to debate The Buffalo Tree and censorship in general. After hearing passionate pleas on both sides, the board president apologized for the hasty decision made the month before. (42) The board, wary of making another quick decision, waited until June 2005 to formally vote. Ultimately, the board voted 6-2 to reinstate the book on the eleventh-grade reading list.

School policy in Muhlenberg allows for a student or parent to object to a book on religious or moral grounds and request a substitute. It was suggested that parents be given the book lists, complete with a short synopsis of each, to curb further challenges. One parent also suggested a rating system for the books on the reading lists. Despite the English Department's adamant rejection of this idea, the board has asked that it comply with the parent's request.

SIECUS also tracked efforts to ban books in Pleasant Valley, IA, (43) Solon, IA, (44) and Hartland, WI. (45) The American Library Association reported that 547 books were challenged in 2004, up from 458 in 2003. (46)

Controversy Preventing Action

Unfortunately, sometimes adults in a community spend so much time arguing about whether materials are appropriate that young people completely miss out on these much-needed resources.

In Fredrick, MD, the County Board of Education could not reach a decision about how to distribute teen help cards and eventually decided to drop the issue. The cards were prepared by the County Health Department for the school's ninth grade sexuality education unit and provided phone numbers for a variety of services including al-anon, mental health services, and a suicide hotline. The school board dispute focused on the "confidential services" presented on the card. (47) The services consisted of phone numbers where students could find out how to access emergency contraception and birth control.

School board members opposed to distributing the cards believed advertising for "confidential services" undermined parental involvement. "We certainly want teens to talk to their parents, but kids don't always go to their parents--even in some of the most open households," said Melinda Malott, Director of Nursing at the Heath Department. She continued, "we don't want kids finding out from their peers and the Internet about some of these issues. Often they go to someone else. If that opportunity arises, we'd like to be that someone else." (48)

The board tried to settle the issue by creating its own help card, but could not agree on what information to include. Ultimately, no new card was created and the existing cards were not distributed. When the Family Life Advisory Committee asked the board to reconsider its inaction on the teen help card, the committee was told that the cards were a "done issue" and that it should not be brought up again for at least a year. (49)


Many school districts rely on outside groups to present some or all of their sexuality education lessons. These groups, which can range from county health departments or local family planning and reproductive health clinics to abstinence-only-until-marriage groups funded by federal grants, are often challenged by parents and community members.

Planned Parenthood Challenged in the Schools

Many school districts have traditionally used Planned Parenthood curricula, materials, or educators to provide some portion of their sexuality education. In recent years, these relationships have been increasingly challenged by parents who object to Planned Parenthood's education and/or politics.

The Quakertown, PA school board voted in November 2004 to cut a Planned Parenthood program from the district's health class. The district teaches an abstinence-based lesson that includes some information on contraceptive methods. Since removing Planned Parenthood from the classrooms, the district has indicated that its own health teachers will now be leading instruction on all sexuality education topics. One school board member clearly in favor of the move commented, "If our focus is abstinence, there is no way we should have guests teaching from organizations that are contrary to this." (50)

While the decision came down against Planned Parenthood, there was some support amongst the community for the organization's work in the schools. A senior at one of the high schools in the district commented, "I believe an abstinence-only program is turning a blind eye to that fact that teens are going to have sex whether or not they are taught about contraception." (51)

In Colorado Springs, CO, Planned Parenthood has been a part of the district's high school sexuality education program for 17 years. In January, the Board of Education reaffirmed that the presentation by Planned Parenthood would stay, despite vocal disapproval by many parents and half the board. One disgruntled citizen called Planned Parenthood a "Trojan Horse in our school system," and others accused the board of condoling abortion and promiscuous sex by allowing the organization to address students. (52) Colorado Springs, which is also home to the right wing, evangelical organization, Focus on the Family, has an abstinence-only-until-marriage policy in its schools. Planned Parenthood is not allowed to speak about abortion or birth control in health classes. The disputed presentation focuses on the use of contraceptive devices only in their role as disease prevention methods.

When parents in Sarasota, FL mounted a challenge to Planned Parenthood in their schools, they faced a contentious debate and a response from the district's teachers. The first complaints were made in May of 2004, and by January 2005 the school board meeting drew 500 people. Before the school board could make an official decision, three of its members had already publicly stated their support for a ban.

The brewing controversy prompted a letter of protest to the board from 70 teachers at one of the high schools. The teachers saw the possible intervention as a threat to their independence and a move by the board to appease a small group of outspoken parents. "If they are going to start there and let a vocal minority control this whole situation, what is next?" asked one high school teacher. "What speakers are we going to knock off next? It's going to snowball," he continued. (53) The letter to the board laid out the teachers' concerns that Planned Parenthood was being opposed on principle, rather than on the content of its course material.

In an effort at compromise, the board ruled that schools would now offer dual sections of the Life Management Skills class to all high school students. One section would include guest speakers such as representatives from Planned Parenthood and the other would not. The board was careful not to single out Planned Parenthood and instead included in the decision any outside speakers.

Restrictive Programs Challenged

In other communities, parents and school board members have worked to remove restrictive, abstinence-only-until-marriage programs from their schools.

Largely as a result of protests from a group of Shamrock Middle School parents, the district superintendent in DeKalb County, GA has temporarily shelved the Choosing the Best abstinence-only-until-marriage program.

At a January 2005 meeting, the parents--many of whom were scientists, physicians, and researchers from nearby Emory University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention--challenged the federally funded abstinence-only-until-marriage program and called for more comprehensive information to be taught instead. One Shamrock Middle School parent said, "This should never have gotten past the first person's desk. It should've been seen for what it is ... I think it's political. I think it's religious. I don't think it should have come into the school at all." (54) The parents asked why the program was accepted without first reviewing its scientific accuracy.

Officials from the school district admitted that the curriculum was never officially approved by the school board, although approval was required. In January 2002, the program was approved by a sex/AIDS education advisory committee after Choosing the Best, Inc. approached the school system. Choosing the Best came free to the schools from the publisher, which may have been a factor in its easy approval. According to DeKalb's Coordinator of Health and Physical Education, it was supposed to go to the board but did not. He explained, "There was a major change in the county. I can't remember what happened at that point." (55)

The Choosing the Best program was introduced in eighth-grade health classes in 2004 and teachers were scheduled to be trained on the sixth- and seventh-grade programs in early 2005.

The Choosing the Best program has been highly criticized because of its strict abstinence-only-until-marriage focus, reliance on fear and shame-based messages, inclusion of misinformation, and biased views of marriage and sexual orientation. (56) One parent at the meeting, a biologist by trade, exclaimed, "Yes, we would all like our children to be abstinent, if not to marriage, at least darn close to it. But you can't take this head-in-the-sand approach. You still provide them with the information to protect them. (57)

Choosing the Best, Inc. is a well-connected organization headed by Bruce Cook. In September 2003, Cook was appointed by the Georgia governor to lead the Board of the Department of Human Resources, but subsequently stepped down in March 2005 amidst some criticism that he was using his position to promote his organization. (58) Choosing the Best, Inc. is also heavily funded by the federal government; it received a three-year federal grant for almost $1.5 million in 2001. In 2004, it won another three-year grant, for $2.4 million, to serve eight Georgia districts, including DeKalb County.

In mid-February 2005, the DeKalb County schools superintendent asked all middle schools in the district to stop teaching Choosing the Best. He said, "We are stopping this in the middle of the road until we take it to the board." (59) A Shamrock parent said that he was excited about the decision, but "The issue is actually not so much Choosing the Best as what's important for teaching sex education in the schools." (60) SIECUS will continue to monitor the situation.

In Scarborough, ME, a parent upset with the comprehensive approach of Maine schools began circulating a petition to allow Heritage of Maine to present its abstinence-only program in the schools.

Maine law mandates that sexuality education courses and materials must be comprehensive. The superintendent in Scarborough described the existing class as "abstinence-based," but explained there are also lessons that demonstrate condom use. (61) After speaking with middle school staff and administration, the parent began questioning the school board during its May meeting. She told reporters that she objected to the condom demonstration and believes "there's a mixed message" in the current curriculum (62) Only a small minority of the board was supportive and the board chairman and superintendent reluctantly added the topic to the August meeting agenda.

Her suggestion to bring in Heritage of Maine, however, was problematic from the beginning. The organization is federally funded through a Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) grant and offers its program to schools for free. At the time of her petition, there was some confusion about whether abstinence-only-until-marriage programs like the one run by Heritage of Maine were permitted in public schools because of the state law. However, any confusion was cleared up in September when the Maine Department of Education sent a letter to the superintendents of all schools stating that abstinence-only-until-marriage programs do not fulfill the requirements of Maine law. The letter was accompanied by the announcement that Maine would become the third state to reject hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal funding for abstinence-only programming that it had received in previous years through a separate federal funding stream. (63)

Soon after the letter was sent, the Scarborough school board made the decision to reject the abstinence-only-until-marriage program. According to the superintendent, the program, "is not appropriate in our minds for use in public school." (64)

Crisis Pregnancy Centers Removed

Local advocates for comprehensive sexuality education working to challenge restrictive programs often uncover the connection between abstinence-only programs and crisis pregnancy centers. Crisis pregnancy centers typically advertise assistance to women faced with unintended pregnancies who are "at risk" for abortion. At these centers, volunteers use anti-abortion propaganda, misinformation, and fear and shame tactics to preach abstinence as the only method of preventing unintended pregnancies and to dissuade women from exercising their right to choose.

In Lansing, NY, the Ithaca Pregnancy Center (IPC) had been making presentations to middle school students. IPC is affiliated with two dozen churches in the area but some parents objected to the moralizing tone of the curriculum and brought their concerns to the school board. The parents pointed to a skit included in the program in which a pair of dirty sneakers was used to symbolize lost virginity. They argued that they would have preferred their eighth graders learn to say no to sex for health reasons and explained that the program's emphasis on marriage made children of non-traditional families uncomfortable. (65)

As a result of the complaints, the board voted on December 16, 2004 to remove the program from schools.

IPC's director claims the Board of Education discarded the program because of "Christianophobia." She maintains that "When people hear about negative consequences that can occur from their choices, they feel judged--and I think you and I know that's called conviction." (66)

Groups Take On Each Other

While many controversies during this past school year saw parents challenging the presence of outside groups on each side of the debate in school, one controversy saw these groups take on each other. At an October 2004 school board meeting in Palm Beach County, FL, representatives from the local Planned Parenthood questioned the abstinence-only-until-marriage program, Be the One, which was implemented in the school districts' middle and high schools.

Be the One is run by a local Florida organization of the same name. According to its website, the program started "as a direct response to the rising number of crisis pregnancies seen at local First Care Pregnancy Centers." The website states that many devastated teenage girls were coming to the centers and "had never heard of abstinence and knew little about preventing pregnancy and STDs" and that the program was created to fill the need. (67)

At the school board meeting, a representative of the Adult Role Model Program at Planned Parenthood explained her opposition to Be the One, "Babies are having babies. Our school system needs to have a better program to prevent our teens from getting pregnant and contracting sexually transmitted diseases." (68) Planned Parenthood representatives pointed out that 300 high school-aged young women give birth to their second or third child each year in Palm Beach County. Despite teen births dropping across the state of Florida, 41 Palm Beach County girls under the age of 15 became teen mothers last year. (69)

The Youth Education Manager for Be the One defended the abstinence program: "Condoms are not 100% effective against pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, and they are zero percent effective toward the emotional consequences teens suffer after their first time." He went on to say, "Our program does not try to use scare tactics. People assume it's a 'just say no' message program, but we want to educate adolescents." (70) One school board member also defended the program: "Having sex is like playing Russian roulette. The way you protect yourself is like having one chamber or all bullets full." (71)

No change was made at the time and as of the beginning of the 2005-06 school year, Be the One was still invited into many Palm Beach County schools. Some local officials, however, have noted the high teen pregnancy rates in the county and become involved in the debate. The Palm Beach County Health Director has been meeting with school district officials to discuss changes she would like to see in the classroom and commented "This can't stay on the back burner any more." (72) SIECUS will continue to monitor the situation in Palm Beach County.


During the 2004-05 school year, advocates on both sides of the sexuality education divide have displayed the same passion as they have in years past. The current administration's support for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs may have emboldened some conservative supporters to speak up in local disputes, but they were consistently met by opponents to their ideologically-driven agenda.

For those of us who wish to see a comprehensive approach to sexuality education be adopted by more and more communities, this school year was filled with both victories and defeats. We must remember, however, that regardless of the outcome, each debate provides important lessons. Advocates on all levels must learn from the examples of local controversies such as the one in Montgomery County, MD; these stories give perspective into the strategies that may be used to prevent comprehensive sexuality education and those that we can use to promote it. And most importantly, they show us that there is hope; students have been gaining access to medically accurate sexuality information one community at a time, and we look forward to reporting on more such stories.

(1.) Melanie Hunter, "Sex Ed Revision Blasted for Alleged Pro-Homosexual Bias,", 10 March 2005, accessed 10 March 2005, <\Culture\archive\200503\CUL20050310a.html>.

(2.) Jon Ward, "Sex-Ed Critics Intend to Fight," The Washington Times, 16 November 2004.

(3.) E. Kelderman, "Schools OK Discussion of Condom Use, Homosexuality," The Gazette, Gaithersburg, MD, 13 November 2002.

(4.) Audio of Peter Sprigg's speech at Public Meeting, accessed 20 April 2005, <>

(5.) "About Us," PFOX, accessed 3 January 2006, <>.

(6.) Sandra Boodman, "A Conversion Therapist's Unusual Odyssey," The Washington Post, 16 August 2005, HE04.

(7.) Newscenter Staff, "Ex-Gay Group Sues School Board Over Pro-Gay Stand,", 3 May 2005, accessed 11 May 2005, <>.

(8.) Newscenter Staff, "Federal Court Supports Ex-Gays and Halts Sex Ed Course,", 5 May 2005, accessed 11 May 2005, <>.

(9.) Ginny Merriam, "Abstinence Education Questioned," The Missoulian, 23 September 3004, accessed 6 January 2006, <>.

(10.) Katherine Marcotte, "Sex Ed Classes'Videos Removed," Bristol Press (CT), 4 November 2004, accessed 7 January 2004, < D=1643&PAG=461&dept_id=10486&rfi=8>

(11.) Ibid.

(12.) Pat Maslowsky and Christine Trimpe, "Parents: Check Out New Curriculum," The Daily Oakland Press, 10 January 2005.

(13.) Ibid.

(14.) Christy Strawser, "District to Alter Way it Teaches Sex Ed," The Daily Oakland Press, 19 December 2005, accessed 6 January 2006, <>.

(15.) Hope Anderson, "Kelso Schools to Re-examine Sex Education Policies," The Daily News (WA), 8 January 2005.

(16.) Hope Anderson, "Kelso Mulls Teaching Beyond Abstinence," The Daily News (WA), 11 January 2005.

(17.) Anderson, "Kelso Mulls Teaching Beyond Abstinence."

(18.) Brenda Wade Schmidt, "Sex Education Splits Board Hopefuls," Argus Leader, 29 April 2005, 1B.

(19.) Brenda Wade Schmidt, "Alpha Center Assists Candidate," Argus Leader, 3 May 2005, 1A.

(20.) Ibid.

(21.) Ibid.

(22.) "N.E. Editorial Roundup," The Associated Press, 9 October 2004, accessed on Lexis-Nexis 26 November 2004.

(23.) David Abel, "Bishop Attacks School Condom Plan," Boston Globe, 26 October 2004, accessed 26 November 2004, <>.

(24.) Ibid.

(25.) Ibid.

(26.) See SIECUS June 2004 Controversy Report at <>.

(27.) Statutory Authority: The provisions of this Subchapter C issued under the Texas Education Code, $28.002, unless otherwise noted. Chapter 115. Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Health Education, Subchapter C. High School., accessed on 24 November 2004, <>.

(28.) Scott Gold, "Revision Marches to Social Agenda," Los Angles Times, 22 November 2004, accessed 23 November 2004, <>.

(29.) Melissa Mixon, "Health books' changes adopted," The Daily Texan, 8 November 2004, accessed 22 November 2004, <>.

(30.) Gold.

(31.) Ibid.

(32.) Ibid.

(33.) Ibid.

(34.) Naomi Mueller, "Parents Upset by Sixth-Grade Sex Education Video," Asbury Park Press, 24 November 2004, accessed 29 November 2004, <,21625,1122322,00.html>

(35.) Ibid.

(36.) "Washoe County, Nev., School Board Rejects New Sex Education Video, Citing 'Fear-based' Abstinence Message," Kaiser Daily Reproductive Health Report, 14 January 2005.

(37.) Associated Press, "Washoe School Board Opposes Abstinence-only Sex Ed Video," Las Vegas Sun (NV), 12 January 2005, accessed 14 January 2005, <>.

(38.) Ibid.

(39.) Rose Ann Pearce, "Parent Tells School Board Some Library Books As Too 'Sexually Explicit'," The Morning News (AR), 25 February 2005, accessed 29 March 2005, <>.

(40.) B. Bennett, "Committee: Book is Perfectly Normal," Northwest Arkansas' News Source, 10 March 2005, accessed 18 March 2005, <>.

(41.) Bruce Weber, "A Town's Struggle in the Culture War," The New York Times, 2 June 2005.

(42.) Weber.

(43.) "Iowa School Board Bans Gay Book From Classrooms,", 7 December 2004, accessed 8 December 2004, <>.

(44.) Ibid.

(45.) Laurie Arendt, "Ban Stand," Greater Milwaukee Today, 25 February 2005, accessed 25 February 2005, <>.

(46.) Weber.

(47.) Diana Mota Morgan, "School Board Deadlocked on Teen Help Card Vote," The Gazette (MD), 2 June 2005, accessed 8 December 2005, <>.

(48.) Ibid.

(49.) Keith Martin, "School Board Reluctant to Revisit Teen Health Card," The Gazette (MD), 3 November 2005, accessed 8 December 2005, <>.

(50.) Marion Callahan, "Schools Debate Sex Ed," The Intelligencer, 19 November 2004.

(51.) Ibid.

(52.) "That Sex-Ed Program Will Remain in Place," Rocky Mountain News, 13 January 2005.

(53.) "Sarasota Teachers Joining Sex-Ed Curriculum Dispute," Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 4 December 2005.

(54.) Jen Sansbury, "Board didn't approve sex ed; Murky process: Controversial abstinence-based program got grant, but no evaluation," The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (GA), 3 February 2005, 1JB.

(55.) Jen Sansbury, "DeKalb County: Board never OK'd sex ed curriculum," The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (GA), 3 February 2005, 1JH.

(56.) For more information, please read SIECUS' Review of two Choosing the Best curricula online at <>.

(57.) Editorial, "Our Opinion: Sex miseducation; DeKalb parents were smart to say it's a mistake to teach teens that abstinence is their only course," Atlanta Journal-Constitution (GA), 4 February 2005, 18A.

(58.) Craig Schneider, "DHR Leader to Step Down for New Post," Atlanta Journal-Constitution (GA), 26 March 2005, 7F.

(59.) Jen Sansbury, "DeKalb schools halt sex ed curriculum," Atlanta Journal-Constitution (GA), 10 February 2005, 2C.

(60.) Ibid.

(61.) Ken Tatro, "Scarborough Parents Petition to Change Sex Ed," The Maine Current, 26 May 2005, accessed 2 June 2005, <>.

(62.) Ibid.

(63.) Mark Peters, "Maine Schools Shun $500,000 Sex-ed Course," Portland Press Herald, 6 September 2005.

(64.) Ibid.

(65.) Anne Downey, "School Board Kills Abstinence Program," Concerned Women for America, 7 January 2005.

(66.) Ibid.

(67.) About Us, Be the One, accessed 30 November 2004, <>.

(68.) "Promoting Abstinence or Courting Disaster," Boca Raton News (FL), 24 October 2004, accessed 25 October 2004, <>.

(69.) Marc Freeman, "Teen Pregnancy Rising Sharply in Palm Beach County," Sun-Sentinel, 29 September 2005, accessed 13 October 2005, <,0,174090.story?coll=sfla-home-headlines>.

(70.) "Promoting Abstinence or Courting Disaster."

(71.) Ibid.

(72.) Freeman.


As SIECUS has noted in past controversy reports, in recent years state legislators are becoming more and more involved in sexuality education by proposing legislation that could impact what young people learn in both positive and negative ways. In 2005, no state enacted legislation that had a major impact on sexuality education. However, the majority of states saw some type of sexuality education-related legislation introduced.

Potential Positive Impact

Seventeen states had legislation that would have impacted sexuality education in a positive way. Hawaii, Iowa, Minnesota, New Jersey, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Washington had legislation that would have either mandated medical accuracy and/or sexuality education or would have set up guidelines for more comprehensive sexuality education.

In addition, several states had legislation that would have implemented or funded comprehensive sexuality education programs. Both the New York and Illinois legislatures introduced bills that would have created a dedicated funding stream for sexuality education. Both bills stipulate that this instruction must be medically accurate, age appropriate, and include information about both abstinence and contraception. In Illinois, the State Senate Committee on Health and Human Services supported Senate Bill 457. In New York, Assembly Bill 6619 passed the State Assembly.

Similar bills in Florida and Texas sought to implement sexuality education alongside other unintended pregnancy and STD prevention measures. In Florida, Senate Bill 2276 would have required all school districts to develop a plan to implement comprehensive family life and reproductive education by the 2008-09 school year. The legislation would also guarantee that rape survivors were offered emergency contraception as part of their treatment. In Texas, House Bill 1354 would have set up a grant system for sexuality education and supported additional prevention measures, including funding other teen pregnancy prevention initiatives and requiring insurance plans to cover contraception.

Pushing for Restrictions

Twelve states had legislation that would have negatively impacted sexuality education. Several states had legislation that would have led to the implementation of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in classrooms. In Maine, which currently has one of the most comprehensive sexuality education laws in the country, Senate Bill 605A would allow schools to offer "abstinence education" in grades 7 through 12 in place of, or in addition to, comprehensive family life education. This bill uses the federal government's 8-point definition of "abstinence education."

Five states had legislation that would have required parental permission for students to participate in sexuality education classes, commonly known as an opt-in procedure. Advocates of comprehensive sexuality education object to opt-in provisions because they feel that too many students would miss out on much-needed sexuality education for administrative reasons or because they left a permission slip in their locker. In Arizona, H.B. 2430 would have required parental permission for sexuality education, but not for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.

Several state legislatures also introduced legislation that would restrict the teachers of or subjects in sexuality education. In Alabama, House Bill 30 would ban use of public funds or buildings to "promote homosexuality" and would have prohibited any state agency or public entity from using public funds or facilities to purchase electronic materials or activities that "sanction, recognize, foster, or promote a lifestyle or actions prohibited by the sodomy and sexual misconduct laws of the state." This ban would have extended to library books and textbooks. Any public employee who violated this law would have been guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.

Ultimately, none of these measures, either positive or negative, passed. Nonetheless, tracking this legislation can help us understand how politics and policy can impact what young people will or will not learn in class.


Over the past few years, SIECUS has noted a steady increase in the number of communities that are debating issues surrounding sexual orientation in their school systems. One of the most obvious trends this past school year continues to be the push by the conservative forces to completely eradicate any mention of sexual orientation from school materials, curriculum, and events. Even more disturbing is the rise in attempts to remove lesbian, gay, bisexual, and questioning (LGBTQ) individuals from schools altogether. In addition, conservative groups employed a new tactic this year when they demanded that the views of "ex-gays" be included whenever sexual orientation was discussed.

Censoring Books and Materials

In many communities, books and other materials in public schools that discuss sexual orientation or feature LGBTQ characters have sparked controversy.

The father of a 5-year-old at Joseph Estabrook School in Lexington, MA was arrested after he refused to leave the school in protest of a book his son had brought home about diverse families. The book, Who's In a Family? by Robert Skutch, depicts different kinds of families, including same-sex couples with children.

The book was part of a bag of books on foreign cultures and traditions that the school sent home for students to read with their families. The co-president of the Estabrook Parent-Teacher Association said that parents received notice about the book bag at the beginning of the year and the bag's contents were displayed at a back-to-school night earlier in the school year. Children are not required to bring home the books.

However, the father said he and his wife were never told about the bag of books. When his son came home with the books, he became concerned and arranged a meeting with the school principal and District Director of Information. At the meeting, the father demanded that the school notify both him and his wife about any classroom discussions involving same-sex marriage and other "adult themes." (1) He asked that their son be removed from any such discussions, even if they arose spontaneously. (2) The father voiced concerns that his son could be exposed to more books and lessons about "gay-headed" households. (3)

When the administration would not concede to his demands, the father refused to leave the school. According to the school superintendent, school officials and the local police urged him to leave, but after several hours, he was arrested for trespassing and spent the night in jail.

After his release, the father explained that, "Because of the same-sex [marriage] law, people are treating it as a mandate to teach the youngest children. It is not a mandate to teach the youngest of children, particularly if parents say, 'Hold on, I want to be the gatekeeper of the information.'" (4)

The Lexington School Committee Chairman defended the school's policy saying, "We don't view telling a child that there is a family out there with two mommies as teaching about homosexuality, heterosexuality, or any kind of sexuality ... We are teaching about the realities of where different children come from." (5)

In Fullerton, CA, the school district was not quite as supportive when a student journalist wrote an article in the school newspaper profiling three gay and bisexual students. When the story ran in December 2004, Ann Long, the editor of the school paper and the story's author was given an ultimatum by the assistant principal: resign or face being fired.

School officials allege that Long violated state laws by asking students about their sexuality without first getting parental approval. Both the Student Press Law Center and the ACLU, which have publicly supported Long, maintain that this section of the State Education Code is meant to apply to faculty and staff rather than students. Other sections of the state code place the responsibility on faculty advisors "to maintain professional standards of English and journalism" in school newspapers. (6)

In researching the article on the decisions of three students to reveal their sexuality to family and friends, Long worked closely with her journalism advisor and received permission from all three students. According to Mark Goodman, Director of the Student Press Law Center, "this is very frustrating because you have a journalist who did her job and made sure she was as responsible in reporting a story as she could be and an administration that didn't like what it saw and went off the deep end." (7)

Long refused to step down and was subsequently fired from her post. Though she has received support from across the country, she also acknowledged that "A student is always at the mercy of the school, especially for a high school student without a college acceptance letter in hand." (8)

Gay-Staight Alliances: A Favorite Target of the Right Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) are after-school clubs designed to help LGBTQ students and their supporters promote respect for all students and address the anti-LGBTQ name-calling, bullying, and harassment that is frequently present in high schools today. Conservative parents, administrators, and communities, however, often make it difficult for GSAs to form and accuse them of "promoting homosexuality."

In Cleveland, GA, a town of two traffic lights in the mountains outside of Atlanta, a controversy over a proposed GSA was drawn out over six months and ended in a ban on all extra-curricular clubs at the high school. The story started in January of 2005, when a student approached school administrators about forming the club. When the small group of students and their supportive parents began the formal process of applying for the club, they were already facing some opposition from the district. In February, the school superintendent sent an email to all school employees stating that the administration was opposed to the action, but that the Equal Access Act required the district to allow the club to apply. (9)

The news triggered an uproar in the small community, and the next school board meeting was moved to the school gymnasium to accommodate all the attendees. The board was able to avoid the issue, however, when, just before the meeting, the students decided to change the name of the club to Peers Rising in Diversity Education (PRIDE). The district asserted that the name change required the group to submit a new application for the club.

To add fuel to the fire, the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church traveled to Cleveland to protest the possibility of the club's formation. The Westboro Baptist Church has an infamous reputation for insulting rhetoric; members often hold signs saying "God Hates Fags" and protest at funerals of LGBTQ individuals. The handful of protesters were met with overwhelming opposition from small town residents, liberal and conservative alike.

Soon after the incident, the district sat down to negotiate with the ACLU of Georgia. The result was that district officials agreed to "drop their attempts to stop" PRIDE from organizing. (10)

Not exactly sticking to the school system's word, the superintendent then announced a proposal to ban all non-curricular clubs. The next board meeting was again packed with community members, none of whom supported the proposed ban on school clubs. Many students and parents were concerned that banning all clubs would put students applying to college at a disadvantage. Nonetheless, the superintendent defended the move, saying that the goal was "to make sure we're focused on our primary mission, which is academics." (11) And, on June 16th the committee responsible for reviewing the superintendent's proposal recommended that extracurricular clubs be eliminated.

Based on this ruling, as of the 2005-06 school year, PRIDE, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Students Against Drunk Driving, Key Club, and a handful of other student groups were told that if they wanted to continue meeting they would have to find off-campus locations.

In June 2005 the Georgia State Board of Education considered a new rule that would have required parents to give permission for students to participate in school clubs. To the relief of many Georgia gay-rights advocates, who felt the rule targeted GSAs specifically, the State Board of Education voted against the proposed rule. (12)

SIECUS also tracked new and ongoing debates over GSAs in Colorado Springs, CO and Boyd County, KY among other communities.

The Removal of LGBTQ People from Private Schools

SIECUS is very disturbed by what appears to be a new trend of discrimination against LGBTQ students and families in private schools. Private schools do not have to guarantee all students an equal opportunity to education and this has allowed them, in some cases, to prevent LGBTQ people from being part of school activities or attending school at all.

In Jupiter, FL, a senior at Jupiter Christian High School was expelled without explanation days after confiding in his school's chaplain that he was gay.

On the third day of the student's senior year, the Bible teacher, also the school chaplain, took the student aside and asked if it were true that he was a homosexual. According to the student, the teacher assured him the conversation would be confidential, yet he and his mother were subsequently called in to meet with school officials. At the meeting, they were offered three options: counseling for the student to change his sexual orientation, voluntary withdrawal, or expulsion. The student said, "I was just shocked ... I just couldn't believe what I was hearing." (13)

In late October 2003, the student and his mother filed a lawsuit against the school, requiring clarification of the school's policy regarding gay and lesbian students as well as an official explanation for why the student was expelled. His mother said, "I think this school needs to be honest about who they are ... If I had known this was their policy, I never would have sent him there this year. That was the most devastating thing I've seen him go through." (14)

The student added a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress to the lawsuit against the school, but in May 2005 that claim was dismissed because Florida law usually prohibits plaintiffs from recovering damages for emotional distress unless physical injuries are sustained as well. The student's lawyers are appealing the decision.

At a Catholic school in Costa Mesa, CA, the focus has been on the gay parents of two young students. A controversy at St. John the Baptist School began in December 2004, when eighteen parents demanded that the school remove from the kindergarten adopted twin children of a same-sex couple, arguing that their parents' "lifestyle" violates church doctrine. Worried that the school would be forced to compromise its Catholic teachings as a result of the boys' presence, the parents threatened to involve the Vatican and remove their children from the school. (15)

The issue appeared to be settled in January 2005 after the diocese rejected the parents' demands, but a new school policy has opened this topic up to further debate and discussion. A draft of the new policy to be included in the 2005-06 parent-student handbook stated, "The children adopted by a same-sex couple may enroll on the condition that the same-sex couple agree not to present themselves as a couple at school functions." (16) SIECUS will continue to monitor the situation.

A New Tactic: Demanding the Inclusion of "Ex-gays"

Recently some conservatives have taken a different approach to undermining any diversity education in schools that stresses tolerance of LGBTQ people. Many of these groups are now demanding that any materials presenting homosexuality as "normal" be accompanied by materials touting the existence of "ex-gays." People who identify as "ex-gays" have often undergone "reparative therapy" or "conversion therapy"--psychotherapy aimed at changing the client's sexual orientation and eliminating all homosexual desires. Despite being discredited by all major medical and mental health associations, "ex-gay" groups are asserting themselves in public debates on everything from therapy to sexuality education. (17) This tactic has been particularly successful in the debate surrounding the sexuality education curriculum in Montgomery County, MD (see story on page 4).

A similar debate took place in Maui, HI, when administrators at the King Kekaulike High School met with some complaints from parents over its plan to show It's Elementary, a film that teaches tolerance towards LGBTQ individuals. The parents explained that the film would only present the view that homosexuality is an acceptable lifestyle, with which they disagree. (18) They recommended that the school also show I Do Exist, a film featuring a man who claims to have changed his sexual orientation from gay to straight. The film was written and produced by Warren Throckmorton, a "reparative therapist" with a degree from the conservative Grove City College (PA) and connections to the "ex-gay" movement. Despite the complaints, the school decided to show the It's Elementary without the accompanying "ex-gay" film.

In Fairfax, VA, a similar plea by a county school board member triggered formal action by the school board distancing themselves from the "ex-gay" movement. The board member sent letters to school principals telling them to invite outside speakers and groups to present the "ex-gay perspective." (19) The letter called homosexuality a "very destructive lifestyle" and suggested schools invite groups like Concerned Women for America to speak about the topic. (20)

The board reported that it was flooded with emails and phone calls condemning the letter. It acted quickly and issued a statement saying the "letter sent by [the board member] was not authorized by and does not reflect the views of the School Board. The School Board continues to support the family life education curriculum and its treatment of this sensitive topic." (21)

States Move to Keep LGBTQ Issues Out of Schools

Although most relevant decisions are made on the local level, SIECUS continues to note an increase in the number state legislators getting involved in debates over public school sexuality education. Recently, many of these legislators have focused their attention on issues involving sexual orientation in school.

In January, Virginia state legislator Glenn Weatherholtz introduced a bill that would bar clubs with a focus on promoting sexual behavior from having access to Virginia public schools. House Bill 2868 amends policies regulating access to public schools and says, "To protect the well-being of students ... local school boards shall not allow access or opportunity to use such school facilities or to distribute literature to any club or other group that is focused on supporting, assisting or justifying any lifestyle involving sexual behavior." (22) The measure is clearly aimed at preventing GSAs access to public schools.

Weatherholtz was joined by 34 other state legislators in sponsorship of the bill but the measure died the state legislature's 2005 session.

Arkansas, on the other hand, is considering whether to follow Texas' lead (see story on page 8) and ban any mention of LGBTQ families in textbooks. State representative Roy Ragland introduced legislation in January that would force school districts only to buy textbooks that define marriage as between one man and one woman. (23) Ragland has said that the bill is a preemptive measure meant to combat any future promotion of a "gay agenda" in schools and not a response to current textbooks. (24)

The Arkansas House Education Committee approved the measure in spite of some concerns that the law may restrict information in some social studies or history classes. In February 2005, however, the Arkansas Senate Education Committee fell one vote short of approving the measure, thus killing the bill. The Democratic chairman of the committee commented, "I think [this bill] is an absolute insult to the educators across this state who by the sponsor's own testimony are doing a great job in selecting appropriate textbooks for our students." (25)

In Alabama, State Representative Gerald Allen (R) proposed a bill that would ban all books with gay characters or themes from public libraries, schools, or universities. Allen also sought to ban gay marriages through an amendment to the state constitution. The proposed bill would prohibit the use of public funds for "the purchase of textbooks or library materials that recognize or promote homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle." (26)

In 2003, the United States Supreme Court handed down a decision in Lawrence v. Texas, which declared all state laws criminalizing homosexual behavior to be unconstitutional. (27) Despite this decision, Alabama still has a sodomy and sexual misconduct law outlawing homosexual behavior. In a press conference, Allen referenced this obsolete law as precedent for his new bill. He maintains that all materials that "promote" these formerly illegal acts should also be banned. (28)

Banned books would include non-fiction books that present homosexuality as genetically influenced or works of fiction that involve gay or lesbian protagonists. At a press conference, Allen was asked about Tennessee Williams' "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," and agreed that under the new law, university theater groups would not be able to perform the play. (29) Allen did not specify whether all literature by gay or lesbian authors would also be banned.

Allen originally pre-filed Alabama House Bill 30 in January of 2005 because Alabama's legislature was not in session. The bill has since died in the legislature's 2005 session.

The Future of LGBTQ Issues in the Public Schools

When a parent or school official challenges a book because of a gay character or takes on a curriculum because of the mention of same-sex couples, they send a clear message to LGBTQ teens that their very existence is inappropriate in the school. Unfortunately, conservative parents and administrators, along with national far right organizations, continue to fight to keep any mention of LGBTQ people from our public schools and send this damaging message to our young people. Over the past few years their efforts have intensified and they have worked on state and local levels, even developing new tactics.

The bright spot in this debate is the amazing work being done by young people in public schools across the country to combat this intolerance. GSAs continue to multiply and, slowly, schools are coming to understand that they can no longer ignore the presence of LGBTQ students in their midst. As a representative for the Montgomery County Public Schools explained, "Homosexuality is part of the world we live in. There's no moral judgment there. But we've been pretending it doesn't exist, sweeping it under the rug, and it's good we're going to address it finally." (30)


(1.) Maria Cramer and Ralph Ranalli, "Arrested Father Had Point to Make; Disputed School's Lessons on Diversity," Boston Globe, 29 April 2005, B1.

(2.) Laura Crimaldi, "Lexington School Calls Cops on Dad Irate Over Gay Book," The Boston Herald (MA), 28 April 2005, 4.

(3.) Cramer and Ranalli.

(4.) "Man Arrested After Dispute Over Gay Lifestyle Teachings Pleads Innocent," Associated Press, 28 April 2005.

(5.) Cramer and Ranalli.

(6.) Joel Rubin, "High School Journalist Faces Firing," Los Angeles Times, 26 January 2005, accessed 8 January 2006, <>.

(7.) Jim Martyka, "School Fires Editor for Story About Gay Students," National Scholastic Press Association, 25 February 2005, accessed 8 January 2006, <>.

(8.) Elizabeth LeSure, "Student Center to Aid High School Editor Fired for Gay Article," The Associated Press, 8 March 2005, accessed 17 March 2005, <>.

(9.) Alan Sverdlik, "Gay School Club Splits Cleveland," The Atlanta Journal Constitution, 14 February 2005, 1C.

(10.) The Associated Press, "ACLU: School will allow Club for Gays, Supporters,", 23 March 2005.

(11.) Erin Williamson, "Cleveland School Bans Some Clubs," The Gainesville Times, 26 August 2005, accessed 8 January 2006, <>.

(12.) The Associated Press, "State Board of Education to Vote on School Club Proposal,", 2 June 2005.

(13.) E. Clarke, "High School Senior Came 'Out'--and Was Expelled," Palm Beach Post (FL), 25 October 2003.

(14.) Ibid.

(15.) See SIECUS January 2005 Controversy Report at <>.

(16.) Seema Mehta, "Catholic School in O.C. Limits Gay Parents," LA Times, 14 June 2005, B3.

(17.) American Psychiatric Association, "Position Statement on Psychiatric Treatment and Sexual Orientation," Released 11 September 1998, accessed 19 August 2005, <>.

(18.) Jim Brown, "Hawaii Parents Protest School's Plan to Show Pro-Homosexual Video to Kids," Agape Press, 3 June 2005, accessed 6 June 2005, <>.

(19.) "School Board Censures Official Over 'Ex-Gays' Letter,", 4 February 2005.

(20.) Ibid.

(21.) Ibid.

(22.) Chris Graham, "Weatherholtz Introduces School-Club Measure," Augusta Free Press, 24 January 2005.

(23.) "No 'Gay Families' In Arkansas School,", 21 January 2005.

(24.) David Robinson, "Senate Panel Turns Back Textbook Marriage Bill," Arkansas News Bureau, 17 February 2005, accessed 9 January 2006, <>.

(25.) Ibid.

(26.) House Bill 30, Alabama House of Representatives, Pre-filed 8 December 2004, accessed 12 December 2004, <>.

(27.) Lawrence v. Texas, 539 US 558 (2003)

(28.) House Bill 30, Alabama House of Representatives.

(29.) "Bill Would Bar State Funds Used to Foster Homosexuality," (30 November 2004), accessed 12 December 2004, <>.

(30.) Jon Ward, "Sex-Ed Critics Intend to Fight," The Washington Times, 16 November 2004.

Maxwell Ciardullo

Public Policy Assistant


Washington, DC
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Author:Ciardullo, Maxwell
Publication:SIECUS Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2005
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