Democrats discuss religious-right activism Schools seen as especially vulnerable to pressure

September 14, 1993|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff Writer

The county is particularly ripe for the increasing influence the religious right is exerting all over the country, said members of the Carroll County Democratic Club at their monthly meeting yesterday at Frisco Family Pub in Westminster.

School Superintendent R. Edward Shilling was the guest speaker. He gave a 30-minute review of top issues facing the schools, such as what students are expected to achieve, discipline, building projects and a performance audit.

But afterward, most questions from listeners addressed increasing activism by conservative groups.

"I'm concerned about AIDS education, and people getting vouchers -- my tax dollars -- and taking them to educate their children in Christian schools," said Jeff Kirkwood, secretary of the club.

Although pressure from activists last year persuaded the schools to drop a controversial videotape, Mr. Shilling said he is convinced the schools found even better videotapes this year to inform students about the danger of AIDS.

Central committee chairman Greg Pecoraro said he was concerned about the increasing political activism nationwide of religious groups, such as in school board races.

"There's some climate here that will be conducive to that," he said.

He said he was particularly dismayed at censorship of instructional materials, such as an attempt by a parent to ban the epic poem "Gilgamesh" in 1991. The school board voted 3-2 to keep the work.

Mr. Shilling said the schools have a process for parent volunteers to screen books before they get to a school board vote. That generally avoids controversy after a book is passed, he said, because concerns usually arise before approval.

The Curriculum Council, as the screening panel is called, includes parents from each school and students from each high school, as well as representatives from the teachers' union and the Carroll County League of Women Voters.

He said principals have trouble finding parents to serve on the panel, "and guess who's volunteering."

He noted that the religious-right movement's influence has grown nationwide and has been mentioned in most education journals.

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