Sex education in Montgomery County: Students may begin in seventh grade

(WJLA) - If the Montgomery County School Board gives the final okay, starting next school year, seventh graders will learn about sexual orientation as part of the health education program.

That lesson used to be part of the eight grade curriculum, but an increase in bullying based on sexual orientation is part of the reason for the change.

County officials say that eight out of 10 gay middle school students are verbally harassed, something that should not be happening in the classroom, they insist. The county is also changing the way the message is delivered.

When it came to sexual orientation and the use of condoms, the lecture initially came from teachers reading from a script. But the new changes will allow teachers some flexibility when it comes to relaying the message.

"It really changes the dynamic of how a teacher delivers instruction and the relationships that they foster with the students," says Cara Grant, the County's Supervisor of Health and Physical Education.

Bethesda parent Linda Ghosal thinks the conversation should start at home, but agrees that starting early in the classroom is a good idea. She does worry, however, about the non-scripted aspect.

"When you open the opportunity for teachers to have an open dialogue with children, it kind of introduces the potential embarrassing questions and difficult topics that I think maybe parents would more comfortable discussing with their kids," she says.

But the school district says teachers must follow some parameters, and are not allowed to discuss their personal opinions or political beliefs during the lesson.

"If they're educated enough about it, you don't have to accept it, but at least be educated enough [to know] what's going on there...If you don't want your children to learn about it, then they should be able to keep their kids at home," says Olney resident Savina Barnsley.

And that’s one thing that hasn’t changed: parents can still choose to review the materials their children will be exposed to, and can also opt to take their child out of the classroom entirely.