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Christian Bloc Ousted From Board : Education: Two members of Vista school panel are recalled after seeking to impose a religiously oriented approach to teaching students about sex.


SAN DIEGO — Voters in suburban Vista have recalled two members of a Christian conservative bloc on the school board, which had gained national attention by seeking to impose a strait-laced approach to sex education.

The third member of the bloc opted not to seek reelection to the Vista board, which sets policy for a middle-income, racially diverse district of 22 schools and 22,000 students.

The new board members have said they will consider revoking the Sex Respect sex education program in which teachers stress abstinence and religious notions of chastity.

The program has been criticized for allegedly showing intolerance toward gays and for leaving students ignorant about safe sex practices and birth control. A group of parents, backed by Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union, has threatened to sue to block the program. A similar suit is under way in Hemet in Riverside County.

"It is my fervent hope that one of the first things the new board will do is throw out Sex Respect," said Barbara Donovan, a leader in the recall movement and a successful candidate for a board spot.

Recalled board members did not return calls Thursday.

The Rev. Billy Falling, head of the Christian Voters League in Northern San Diego County, blamed the ouster of the Christian members on the refusal of local ministers to "come to their defense against the big liberal guns" of Planned Parenthood, the ACLU and the California Teachers Assn.

Falling predicted that the victory of the new board members will hurt students. "They (the winning candidates) convinced the community that religious bigotry is acceptable," he said. "They want to go back to the failed sex education practices that have produced some of the moral problems we have in this country. Theirs is a very hollow victory."

Soon after taking control in 1992, the Christian bloc sparked controversy with a long and emotional debate over whether creationism should be added to the curriculum. Although blocked from adding creationism by state law, the board voted to have teachers tell students that evolution is "just a theory."

Another controversy involved the board's decision to refuse a state grant to start a breakfast program for low-income children. Board members said children should have breakfast with their families instead.

"They just had this 'Ozzie & Harriet' view of the world," Donovan said. "We need a board that will work with the entire community."

With the Christian bloc in charge, school board meetings became contentious affairs where members bickered with parents and teachers.

The district superintendent left to take a lower-paying job in another district. Another district official and a highly regarded elementary school vice principal also left.

The superintendent job remains open. Donovan said she believes the district's reputation for political volatility may be hurting efforts to fill it.

San Diego County has been home to a movement by Christian conservatives to win spots on local school boards. Two years ago they were successful in several races but later were criticized as "stealth" candidates who had not been candid with voters about their goals.

On Tuesday, a Christian slate in Encinitas, running for three seats on the San Dieguito Union High School District, which has 8,000 students in six junior and senior high schools, was defeated. One of the candidates suggested during the campaign that Shakespeare is inappropriate for high school students.

A rival slate, consisting of two incumbents and a sheriff's captain, utilized the slogan "We Don't Want to Be Like Vista" in defeating the Christian slate.

In school districts in eastern San Diego County, where the Christian influence is considered to be the most powerful, results were mixed. Christian conservatives won four races but lost four others.

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