After a failed motion and more than an hour of discussion during Wednesday’s meeting, the Carroll County Board of Education opted to table a vote on the Family Life Advisory Committee’s recommended changes to the state’s mandated health curriculum framework.
The recommendations were on the meeting agenda as an action item, but some school board members were confused about the approval process while others wanted to further review the former curriculum framework and the intended changes. The issues were significant enough for board members to delay their vote.
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.
The framework states that prekindergarten students will “recognize and respect that people express themselves in many different ways” and that kindergartners 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.”
“I can tell you that I have great concerns about the standards, I think they’re highly inappropriate in many respects,” said Edmund O’Meally, legal counsel to the Board of Education.
Since January, the school system’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. Amy Guilford, chair of the committee, and Angie McCauslin, the school system’s director of curriculum and instruction, asked the school board to approve the committee’s recommendations on Wednesday night.
Many board members were reluctant to approve the recommendations and asked questions to clarify the procedure.
School board member Donna Sivigny, who serves on the committee as the school board’s representative, explained the committee’s roles and responsibilities.
“They’re not recommending curriculum or materials, they’re recommending what they believe to be a good framework that is as consistent as possible with the state framework, but is in more alignment with what our community thinks is appropriate for the curriculum writers to begin writing [the curriculum] to bring to us for approval,” Sivigny explained to the school board.
McCauslin reiterated Sivigny comments.
“I urge you to approve our recommendation so our curriculum writers, who will meet this summer, can begin to do the work and get this done,” McCauslin said.
Carroll County Commissioner Dennis Frazier, a Republican who represents District 3, advised the school board to follow the committee’s approval process. Frazier is running for a seat in the Maryland General Assembly in this year’s election, to represent District 5.
“It’s supposed to go [through] the curriculum people first and it’s always been done that way in the past, perhaps that’s the way it should be done now,” he said. “This topic seems somewhat ‘controversial’ so let’s make sure we’re doing it right.”
Much of the confusion started to arise when the school board reviewed an edited sample of the committee’s framework. Many of the board members wanted to examine an original copy of the state framework without the committee’s changes.
Devanshi Mistry, a senior at Liberty High School and student representative on the school board, questioned Guilford about language that was updated from the state’s framework.
“What were the specific things edited out because I don’t have the original [to] compare and see what changes were made — I would appreciate the source material to be able to see the changes,” Mistry said.
Frazier echoed Mistry’s sentiments.
“I’m not a voting member, but anytime the Board of Commissioners has looked at something, we always have the original there and it makes it more clear on what was done,” he said.
School Board President Kenneth Kiler agreed and highlighted the absence of Jim Rodriguez, the school system’s supervisor of health and physical education.
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“I don’t understand why we’re not seeing a complete package … my last discussion was that Mr. Rodriguez would be with you and that he was getting the proper information to make sure it was on the agenda,” Kiler said.
School board member Tara Battaglia, who is running for reelection to her school board seat, said she would support the committee’s recommendations.
“I would be fine with approving this, but I see what everyone is saying about [reviewing] the original and the edits, which is what we normally do with policy,” she said.
School board member Patricia Dorsey, who is running for reelection to the school board, later made a motion to table the vote. The motion failed, as no other member seconded it.
“We started from scratch on this, as requested, with staff,” Guilford said. “So to get to this point feels a little disappointing — all of the information is there that we were asked to present and all the standards are still in place.”
After further discussion and apologies from the school board to Guilford, Battaglia made another motion to table the vote until the board’s June 8 meeting. Kiler seconded that motion, and it was approved.
“Very rarely have we had anything come to this board that wasn’t ready to be voted on … although everything I see [in the committee’s recommendations] I like,” said Kiler, who is running for a seat on the Carroll County Board of Commissioners in this year’s election.