Susan Lee said that when she has taught the health education curriculum to students, she has been able to tailor the lessons to fit their needs — until she reached one on sexual orientation.
At that point, Lee had to bring out the script that outlined what she and other Montgomery County Public Schools health teachers could say on the topic.
“It was very odd and unnatural, and the kids knew it was very odd and unnatural,” said Lee, a teacher at White Oak Middle School in Silver Spring who has taught health for about 15 years. “You go from teaching and doing group work and doing projects, and suddenly you’re reading straight from a piece of paper.”
That script, introduced in 2007, is now gone after the county school board voted June 17 to pass a series of changes to the health education curriculum for the system’s middle and high schools that covers topics including nutrition, mental health, alcohol and drugs.
The new curriculum, among other revisions, also moved the topic of sexual orientation from an eighth-grade class to a seventh-grade class (the topic also appears in a 10th-grade class) and decreased the number of topics covered in each grade overall so teachers can go more in depth.
The revised curriculum incorporates feedback from teachers, students, community members and others after a roughly yearlong review process.
The school system will train teachers this summer on the revised curriculum. The educators will start teaching unscripted lessons on sexual orientation starting this upcoming school year.
Health educators have taught about sexual orientation as part of a unit lesson focused on respecting differences, said Cara Grant, the school system’s supervisor of PreK-12 Health and Physical Education.
Grant — who used to be a health teacher for eighth and 10th graders — said that, under the former curriculum, a teacher would go through basic definitions, including those for bisexual, homosexual, tolerance and empathy.
The scripted lessons “go against the art and science of teaching,” Grant said, and limited the questions from students she could answer.
“As a teacher, if it wasn’t within the script, I couldn’t really respond to it,” she said.
Trina Brozewicz, a health teacher at Thomas W. Pyle Middle School in Bethesda, said the changes will allow more creative group activities and more in-depth discussions.
In the past, she said, “It was just very rigid, and it was kind of almost boring for the students. They were very disengaged.”
Brozewicz and Lee said that compared to when the scripts were implemented about seven years ago, sexual orientation is now a more prevalent topic in society.
“I think that’s it just more open now, and kids are able to hear more about it in school, which I think is great,” Brozewicz said.
Though the scripts are gone, teachers will adhere to guidelines as they do for all the other lessons, Lee said.
“Personal or general religious beliefs are not included in the standards and are not an appropriate topic for discussion,” said a May 13 memo from Superintendent Joshua P. Starr to school board members.
Christy Braddock, whose son recently finished eighth grade at White Oak Middle School, said she thinks losing the scripts will allow teachers to be more creative but is concerned teachers with strong opinions might include their views in their lessons.
Braddock said she thinks teachers should inform students about the science, and families should teach the values.
“I just want them to teach that it’s part of sexuality,” she said.
Before the board’s June 17 vote, David Fishback — advocacy chair for the Metro D.C. chapter of Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays — voiced the organization’s support for the curriculum revisions, particularly those regarding sexual orientation.
“Due to these revisions, the community in which my granddaughter will grow up will be better and more caring because our students will learn the realities of matters of sexual orientation and gender identity, information that will help everyone feel safe and accepted,” he said.