Harford County Public Schools discuss health curriculum amid backlash for age-appropriate content – Baltimore Sun | #education | #technology | #training

The Board of Education of Harford County discussed the future of Harford County Public Schools’ elementary school health curriculum, and the construction of a new Homestead/Wakefield Elementary School that will reduce overcrowding at the current school, during its board meeting Monday, which lasted more than three hours.

The board was presented with updates to the career, technology and health curricula for the 2022-23 school year. Proposed changes to the health curriculum for grades Pre-K to 4th grade are being reviewed by the Maryland State Department of Education to ensure the material is age appropriate. School officials stressed that there is an opt-out option for the course or specific course subjects.

“I think it is important to emphasize viewing the curriculum is an option that all parents have,” Board Member Sonja Karwacki said. “All they have to do is call the school making an appointment or call the office and make an appointment. We are not hiding.”

A team of county schools administrators and teachers involved in developing the new health curriculum presented to the board, including Dr. Susan Brown, executive director of curriculum and assessment; Deborah Basler, supervisor of High School Physical Education, Health and Athletics; Joseph Harbert, supervisor of Physical Education PK-8, Health Education K-8, and Adapted Physical Education PK-12; and Brittany Pettus, health curriculum specialist.

The team fielded several questions from the board, which board members said came from parents who have contacted them with concerns about the new curriculum. With the new curriculum, the team said, the children in pre-kindergarten through fourth grade will not be shown bare bodies, or be taught about gender or pronouns because of their ages.

Instruction on human sexuality does not start until the fifth grade. While there are other counties that teach this unit before the fifth grade, the board was cautioned by the presenters that Harford County does not align with that framework.

The human sexuality unit is an opt-out unit, according to the presenters. Before teachers start on the unit, they will send out a letter describing the subject, so parents can have the choice to either let there child complete the unit or select alternative course work.

After reviewing the information, the parent/guardian may meet with the health educator to discuss their options. Parents can have their child opt out of the Family Life and Human Sexuality unit or a specific lesson. If the parent decides to opt out, the child will be given alternative work.

Teachers of the unit have family life training as a way to ensure an even greater level of control of the classroom, the presenters said. Teachers who are new to teaching the unit are required to undergo training, while there are follow-up training courses for those who have previously taught the unit.

Teachers are giving scripted lessons for the training, and they go through lessons and questions that are appropriate to answer. This is made to protect the teachers from the potential backlash, said Harbert.

Also, the board was informed of new graduation requirements that will affect ninth graders, Brown said. Students need another half credit of health, and the technical education credit now includes engineering and computer science. The school system will also be adding the Health 9 course as a prerequisite of Health II.

The Board of Education did not approve a proposed change to the Homestead/Wakefield Elementary School Replacement Project, which will replace the three-building school with a single building on the Wakefield campus that is over capacity.

The project has been planned for phased construction over fiscal years 2022-24 with funding provided by the county and state, according to agenda documents. In Nov. 2021, the Interagency Commission on School Construction approved the project for state funding through the Built to Learn Act. The county has also committed to the local portion of capital funding, according to agenda documents.

During the planning and design phases, the project team has been working with the Town of Bel Air to complete the plan review process as a prerequisite to obtaining site-plan approval. The town, however, wanted Harford County Public Schools to commit to the use of surplus school property to establish a right-of way that will allow a connecting public road to be built across the Bel Air campus, said Cornell Brown, assistant superintendent for operations.

Superintendent Sean Bulson did not recommend accepting Bel Air’s decision requiring a public road right of way across the school site since the property is currently being used for educational programs at Homestead/Wakefield Elementary and will be needed for the future Bel Air Middle School project, according to agenda documents. The board voted to back Bulson’s recommendation.

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he board approved the adjusted 2022-23 school calendar. Each year in October, the Maryland State Education Association hosts its annual convention. The public school system schedules a professional development day to allow teachers to attend the convention, according to agenda documents.

The calendar committee predicted the convention date would be Oct. 14, but the Maryland State Education Association scheduled the convention for Oct. 21. An updated calendar, which was approved at the meeting, reschedules early dismissal from Oct. 13 to Oct. 20, and the professional development day from Oct. 14 to Oct. 21.

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