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Carroll County Times
Carroll County Education

Carroll school board adopts alternative plans for state-mandated health curriculum in high schools

Carroll County’s Board of Education unanimously approved Wednesday two options for high school students whose parents want to opt out of the state’s new health curriculum standards.

The options, called Health 1 and Health 2, were developed by the school system’s Family Life Advisory Committee and were specifically focused on editing the state’s indicators to align with “community standards for age-appropriate instruction” on human sexuality, according to school board member Donna Sivigny, who is the board liaison to the committee. The committee’s edits to the state curriculum framework included deleting information that describes gender identity and gender expression, as well as sexual orientation and identity.

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Parents who opt out their high school-age children from the state-mandated curriculum would receive either Health 1 or Health 2 instruction, or could also choose to opt out of those lessons altogether, according to the school board.

The alternative health curriculum adopted was for CCPS high schools, and the intended changes will take effect during next school year. A framework for CCPS elementary and middle schools will be voted on in the next two years, according to School Board President Kenneth Kiler.

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The Maryland State Board of Education adopted the Comprehensive Health Education Framework in October 2019, a 51-page document that details broad concepts students learn at each grade level. It includes curriculum guidelines for health education with instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity taught in an age-appropriate manner to children from preschool through 12th grade.

According to the framework, Maryland parents can opt their children out of the lessons if they’re in fourth grade or higher. During a public comment session at an April 13 board meeting, some Carroll County Public School parents urged board members not to approve the plans, which they said would “sexualize” young students in the school system.

Since January, the Carroll County Public School’s Family Life Advisory Committee has been working with the school board to align the state-mandated curriculum with the “values” of the Carroll County community. The committee is comprised of about 30 parent and school representatives from elementary, middle, and high schools.

During a public session at Wednesday’s board meeting, several community members spoke about the state-mandated health curriculum and offered opposing viewpoints. Others were there to voice support for the framework and protest a school board’s decision to ban LGBTQ+ pride flags.

Valery Brown Dennis, a recently retired CCPS teacher who attended the protest, urged the board to adopt the curriculum.

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“For the mental and physical health of our students, our system needs a health curriculum for 2022 as required by the state of Maryland — a health curriculum that matches the reality of student behavior, now, and in their adult lives,” Dennis said.

Steve Whisler, a candidate for the Board of Education, called the framework “inappropriate” for younger children.

“Our school system must focus on teaching kids critical thinking — not critical theories and practices related to race and gender … many of the items lined out and modified are issues that parents, not schools, discuss with their children,” Whisler said.

The state’s framework says pre-kindergarten students will “recognize and respect that people express themselves in many different ways” and that kindergarteners will “recognize it is important to treat people of all gender identities and expressions with dignity and respect.” It also states that first-graders will “identify a range of ways people identify and express gender.”

For the second time since a May 11 board meeting, Amy Guilford, chair of the Family Life Committee, and Angie McCauslin, the CCPS director of curriculum and instruction, asked the school board to approve the committee’s recommendations for the school system’s high school curriculum. During that May meeting, the board opted to table a vote on the committee’s recommended changes because some board members were confused about the approval process, while others wanted to further review the former curriculum framework and the intended changes for Health 1 and 2.

The board discussed the new health curriculum later in Wednesday’s meeting, specifically addressing opt-out indicators for high school students. According to the framework, parents can have their students “opt-out of the family life and human sexuality instruction set forth in the state framework and that each local school system shall establish . . . appropriate alternative learning activities and/or assessments in health education.”

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McCauslin said the school system would educate the community with additional information about the framework.

“We would continue to have parent permission forms go home and we would continue to have parent information nights that we hold at all schools ... invite parents in to review the curriculum, the materials, and see the lessons and what [is being] taught,” she said.

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After the board’s approval for Health 1 and 2, the committee’s curriculum writers will meet this summer to write CCPS high school’s new health framework.

For the record

A previous version of this story should have said the Health 1 and Health 2 curriculums that were approved at last week's Carroll County Board of Education meeting were for students who opted out of the state’s new health curriculum standards.


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