The Maryland Youth Advisory Council has announced its support for House Bill 119, which aims to enforce policy and curriculum standards for public schools in each county in Maryland. The bill, if passed, will require each county public school district to follow the Maryland State Board of Education’s Comprehensive Skills-Based Health Education program, ensuring that students receive appropriate information on various health issues. The bill also authorizes the Superintendent to withhold funds from a county board if compliance is not achieved within a certain period of time.
Delegates Vanessa Atterbeary, Kris Fair, and Joe Vogel have joined the Council in supporting the legislation. The goal of the bill is to protect the State Board of Education’s adoption of Comprehensive Skills-Based Health Education, which includes adequate information on mental health, substance abuse, family life and human sexuality, safety and violence prevention, healthy eating, and disease prevention. However, the bill does not take away the local boards’ power to shape policies and procedures regarding health education.
According to Samuel Desai, Chair of the Council, “The quality of health education provided in Maryland classrooms will have a direct impact on our generation’s ability to make responsible decisions in the present and as adults.” He added that the current curriculum standards are outdated and out of touch with the current generation’s needs.
Several studies have shown the shortcomings of current school health curriculums for teens. A report by the Guttmacher Institute found that approximately half of the students in grades 7-12 needed more information on what to do in the event of rape or sexual assault, as well as science-backed information on HIV and other STDs. Another study by GLSEN found that among a sample of LGBTQ+ students, 72% completed health curriculums without mentioning LGBTQ-related health or social-emotional issues.
The MSDE Health Curriculum standards are vetted by representatives from across Maryland’s diverse regions. It is crucial for students to see themselves represented in the health classroom; failing to acknowledge certain demographics is a failure of youth safety and well-being. Without factual, science-based health education, students may rely on the internet and peer word-of-mouth, which could include misinformation and unsafe practices. While educators cannot change adolescent questioning of gender, sexuality, or health, local boards of education have the power to give students an informed basis for exploring these topics.
Other organizations, including Safe Schools USA, GLSEN, Annapolis Pride, and Prince George’s County Democratic Central Committee, have also joined the Council in supporting the bill.
The Maryland General Assembly established the Maryland Youth Advisory Council in 2008. The governor appoints members, leaders of the General Assembly, and the Governor’s Office of Crime Prevention, Youth, and Victim Services based on nominations from various student councils. Since 2015, over 200 young Marylanders have served on the Council, advocating for legislation that benefits students, participating in academic and leadership panels, and holding roundtable discussions with other students worldwide.
In conclusion, House Bill 119 aims to provide better health education for students in Maryland, ensuring that they receive factual and science-based information on various health issues. The Maryland Youth Advisory Council and other supporting organizations believe that this bill will significantly impact the current generation’s ability to make responsible decisions in the present and as adults.