History / Timeline
Sex education has been a hot topic in Maryland over the past year as the state works to update the health education code referred to as COMAR 13A.04.18. This comes in the wake of legislation passed over the past few years to expand awareness of child sexual assault and bring the conversation about consent into the classroom.
2011: The last time the Health Education code of regulations was last revised. This set down guidelines for what should be covered in the state framework on Health Education.
2016: Maryland adopted Erin’s Law which requires public schools to adopt programs to help students, school personnel and parents to recognize and report child sexual abuse.
2018: Legislation was passed to require boundaries and consent to be taught to middle school and high school students. This legislation began with the observations of 12-year old Maeve Sanford-Kelly who worked with mother Delegate Ariana Kelly to write a bill for consent education in 2016. Now, Maryland is one of 10 states to require consent education. You go, girl!
2019: The Health Education legislation is getting a reboot! An updated version of COMAR 13A.04.18 was introduced back in June of 2019 and health education leaders are hoping to see it published by early 2020.
The Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR) 13A.04.18 sets out the requirements for Maryland’s Comprehensive Health Education Instructional Programs for pre-kindergarten to 12th grade. This updated legislation builds on the previous version to move the state toward skills-based National Education Standards informed by core concepts set out by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Major changes will include updated language and the addition of special sections on assault and abuse prevention and consent. The language changes aim to improve inclusivity surrounding human sexuality and reduce stigmatizing language surrounds AIDS and HIV. Other changes will require contraception to be taught by 7th grade rather than 8th grade and will remove the option for parents and students to opt-out of the section on disease prevention.
Finally, the new and improved Health Education code is making moves to see these changes rolled out without delay. Previously local education boards were required to approve instructional materials related to family life and human health. The new legislation will continue to involve local advisory committees but materials no longer require approval from all local boards. This should remove some of the delays that is experienced with the current approval process.
Tell us more about the sex-ed requirements (or lack there of)
The current Health Education code requires Family Life and Human Sexuality to be taught as part of comprehensive health education in the state of Maryland. The state framework is evidence-based and includes education on both abstinence and contraception as methods for preventing STIs and unintended pregnancy.
Information on sexuality for LGTBQ+ communities has yet to make its way into the official curriculum. However, the inclusive language recommended by the new health education code states it will “represent all students regardless of ability, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.”
Although this has not been a requirement, according to the 2018 report from SIECUS (Sexuality Information and Education Council of the US), 23.5% of Maryland schools reported teaching about sexual orientation and gender roles and 21.6% schools reported providing curricula or supplementary materials to LGTBQ students.
Currently parents and students have the option to opt-out of any lessons on sexual health education. According to the current education code, students who opt out should be offered alternative learning activities in health education. With the adoption of the new health education code, parents and students will no longer be able to opt-out of the section on disease prevention. Understanding contact with bodily fluids as a method of disease transmission was deemed to be a safety issue for students.
What the kids are actually learning...
The health education code is used to form a framework for teaching family health and human sexuality at the local level. However, this is not always what makes its way into the classroom. Brian Griffith, the executive director of the Society of Health and Physical Educators (SHAPE) in Maryland, explains some of the challenges in implementing health curricula at the local level.
Griffith notes that, even though the school board mandates the curriculum, it is difficult to know how it is actually being taught and how much time is being dedicated to addressing these objectives. Furthermore, he notes the need to support teachers in the classroom, that proper support and training are needed, and that “[teaching] consent is a state law but how do you teach it in a classroom?”
There is plenty of variability between the school districts, but according to the 2018 SIECUS report, abstinence; how to access information on HIV, STIs/STDs, and pregnancy; creating and sustaining healthy relationships; and preventive care for reproductive and sexual health was reported to be taught by roughly 90% of Maryland public high schools. Unfortunately, only 45% reported teaching how to correctly use a condom and 23.5% reported teaching methods of contraception other than condoms.
It seems there is room for improvement with bringing all Maryland school districts in line with the health education code. Many involved in these health education initiatives are hopeful that the changes with the newest version of the health education code and a new action plan will help close this gap.
Any interesting programs/initiatives/legislation in the works or currently running?
The number one task at hand is getting the new health education code published. In anticipation of this, a group of leaders from around the states is already working to update the educational framework. Once this is complete, the updated framework will be shared with the school districts so they can incorporate the changes into their health curriculum.
To address the gap between the state framework and local curricula, representatives from Maryland will be participating in the second cohort of Leadership Exchange for Adolescent Health Promotion (LEAHP) to take place in Washington DC January 2020. This project will bring together state leaders from different sectors to develop a 2-year action plan for revamping sexual health education, sexual health services and supportive environments for adolescents in the state of Maryland.
Maryland gives us some hope!
Written by: Alice Rhoades
Edited by: Teri Bradford
Have info to add? Please get in touch!
(1) “NCSD Launches Project to Aid States in Improving Adolescent Health Policies.” NSCDDC.org., last modified July 30, https://www.ncsddc.org/ncsd-launches-project-to-aid-states-in-improving-adolescent-health-policies/.
(2) “Sec. 13a.04.18.01. Comprehensive Health Education Instructional Programs for Grades Prekindergarten—12, Chapter 13A.04.18. Program in Comprehensive Health Education, Subtitle 04. SPECIFIC SUBJECTS, Title 13A. State Board of Education, Code of Maryland Regulations.” Code of Maryland Regulations., accessed Dec 6, 2019, https://mdrules.elaws.us/comar/13a.04.18.01.
(3) State Profiles Fiscal Year 2018: Maryland. 2018.
(4) “State Standard – Health.” Maryland.gov., accessed 12/6/, 2019, https://mdk12.msde.maryland.gov/INSTRUCTION/StandardsandFrameworks/Health/Pages/standard4/allgradesinfo.aspx.
(5) “Teaching and Learning: Health.” Maryland.gov., last modified 7/22/, https://mdk12.msde.maryland.gov/INSTRUCTION/StandardsandFrameworks/Health/Pages/health.aspx.
(6) “What is Erin’s Law?” Erin’s Law., accessed Dec 5, 2019, https://www.erinslaw.org/erins-law/.
(7) Brener, Nancy, Jennifer Smith-Grant, Tim McManus, Shari Shanklin, and J. Michael Underwood. 2018. School Health Profiles 2018: Characteristics of School Programs among Secondary Schools.
(8) Salmon, Karen. 2019a. 13A.04.18 Programs in Comprehensive Health Education.
(9) 2019 COMAR 13A.04.18: Comprehensive Health Education Instructional Programs for Grades Prekindergarten– Grade 12.
(10) Wiggins, Ovetta. 2018. “Maryland Lawmakers Advance Bill that Requires Schools to Teach Sexual Consent.” Washington Post., accessed Dec 5, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/md-politics/maryland-lawmakers-advance-bill-that-requires-schools-to-teach-sexual-consent/2018/03/30/3aa2f666-3448-11e8-8abc-22a366b72f2d_story.html.