Earlier this month, as the Carroll County Board of Education adopted an alternative framework for its high school human sexuality curriculum, members of the school system’s Family Life Advisory Committee lamented a loss of local control over what students should and should not be learning in county classrooms.
The Code of Maryland Regulations directs local school boards to provide “appropriate alternative learning activities” in health education for students whose parents wish to opt them out of the Maryland Comprehensive Health Education Framework section on family life and human sexuality. The framework was published in October 2019 and details broad concepts for each grade level.
On May 11 the school board directed its Family Life Advisory Committee to focus on the family life and human sexuality section, with topics such as healthy relationships and consent, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation and identity, anatomy and physiology, sexual health, and sexually explicit media.
School board member Donna Sivigny said the school board sought to align the state framework to Carroll’s “community standards” that are “age appropriate.”
Sivigny said when the state updated its framework in 2019, it “took biology out.”
“They took out the biology and they added in several sections of social justice activism,” Sivigny said. “Locally we’re trying to reduce the social justice activism and add back in the biology because that is actually what this is really supposed to be all about.”
Carroll’s committee edited the state framework by deleting information that describes gender identity and gender expression and sexual orientation and identity. The committee also added portions that explain conception and the stages of pregnancy and the birth process, and information related to the dangers of pornography.
Sivigny, who serves on the Family Life Advisory Committee as the school board’s representative, said during the June 8 school board meeting that the alternative framework is actually the preferred framework to teach all county students, but state officials will not allow Carroll County to adopt it for the entire school system. Instead, the committee was advised, Sivigny said, that CCPS could only make edits to the framework for students whose parents want to opt out of the state mandated curriculum.
“We are being forced ... to adopt the state framework and have what the FLAC developed as the opt out,” Sivigny said at the June 8 meeting. “... It is not what I would recommend to you, the other board members, but it is what we are being forced to provide based on — I’ll be kind and call it feedback — from the state.”
The Carroll County Board of Education unanimously approved June 8 the edits made by the FLAC as the county’s alternative framework for high school students.
During the June 8 meeting, Amy Gilford, chair of the Family Life Advisory Committee, and Angie McCauslin, the CCPS director of curriculum and instruction, presented the committee’s edits to the state curriculum framework.
In an interview this week, Gilford, who is the executive director of the Marriage and Relationship Education Center, a Westminster nonprofit, said she hopes a similar version of those edits will be applied to an opt-out framework for elementary and middle school students in CCPS. This framework will be developed in the next two years, she said.
“We would like the high school FLAC version of the indicators to be the primary and default version because it’s based on biology not ideology ... we would like to see the same thing for middle and elementary school when we finish going through those indicators as well,” Guilford said this week.
Guilford explained that local curriculum control is important, as the committee continues to discuss edits to the state-mandated framework.
“Local control is how leaders are held accountable, and they are best able to hear and respond to constituents’ needs,” she said. “A one-size-fits-all approach to any issue ... is generally detrimental to communities at a variety of levels.”
Commissioner Dennis Frazier, a Republican who represents District 3, serves as the lone representative from Carroll County on the state’s Advisory Council on Health & Physical Education. He commended the committee’s recommendations during the June 8 meeting.
“I think this is a great compromise,” he said. “We have the original from the state and then if you want to opt out you have [that option], which is made by community members.”
FLAC is comprised of about 30 parent and school representatives from Carroll County’s public elementary, middle and high schools.
Emilie Tedeschi, the student representative on the school board, suggested that the committee include instruction that represents all students in the school system, regardless of gender identity.
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“I ask you please make sure to cover that all of these risks, all of these aspects of sex and how it affects healthy relationships [and] mental health — is applied equally to all groups,” she said. “Sometimes students feel that they are ignored in that respect, even if it isn’t specifically covered based on how these edits are made.”
School board member Pat Dorsey spoke up about the representation of students of color in the school system. Dorsey noted a portion that was struck out by the FLAC in the alternative curriculum that states, “examine the impact of gender identity on members of marginalized communities and analyze the intersectionality of race, culture and gender for members of those communities.”
“Some groups have just been struck through altogether and that’s not what we need to be putting before our students as well,” Dorsey said. “That’s (my) personal opinion.”
Ultimately, Dorsey voted to approve the alternative curriculum.
CCPS staff will meet this summer to write the health curriculum for CCPS high school students. That curriculum will be reviewed by the FLAC and ultimately must be approved by the school board.