Maryland State Profile
The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and community-based organizations in Maryland received $3,245,408 in federal funds for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in Fiscal Year 2007. 1
Maryland Sexuality Education Law and Policy
Maryland education code requires each local school board to work with the county health department in establishing a school health education program with a number of specified goals. Sexuality education falls under Goal F, which is designed to help students “recognize the family as a basic unit of society that perpetuates life and promotes healthy growth and development.” Under Goal F, schools must help students “develop and use skills for making responsible decisions about sexual behavior based on its consequences for the individual and others” and “develop and use skills for making responsible decisions about family planning and preventing pregnancy.” Goal F also includes teaching students about “[a] variety of family structures and roles of family members,” “male and female roles in American society,” “sexual variations,” “contraception,” and “family planning.”
Maryland education code requires that health education classes be taught in kindergarten through twelfth grade, in mixed gender groups. It also states when certain topics may and may not be addressed. For example, the code says, “Direct teaching of human reproduction may not begin earlier than age 10 or later than age 12.” Regulations also state that an elective sexuality education course must be offered in middle and high schools. This course must be designed with an appointed citizen advisory committee that broadly represents the views of the community and must cover a number of topics including contraception, family planning, and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
The code states that teachers of sexuality education classes may have additional preparation for this class and that any teacher who feels “inadequate or uncomfortable” with the curriculumdoes not have to teach the class. Maryland State Regulations also mandate that “local school systems shall provide annual instruction in AIDS to all students at least once in grades three to six, six to nine, and nine to twelve.” Each local school board determines the actual grade.
Parents or guardians may remove their children from any or all sexuality education classes. This is referred to as an “opt-out” policy. The elective courses offered in middle and high schools require parental permission in order for a student to participate, this is known as an “opt-in” policy.
See Maryland Regulations 13A.04.18.02, 13A.04.18.03, and 13A.04.18.04.
SIECUS is not aware of any proposed legislation regarding sexuality education in Maryland.
Comprehensive Curriculum’s New Foothold is Uncertain While Opponents Consider New Strategy
A protracted battle over whether to teach students about sexual orientation spanned three years in Montgomery County, MD.
The Montgomery County School Board originally approved a curriculum update for middle and high school health classes in November 2004. The program included a video in tenth-grade health classes that showed students how to put on a condom and a pilot program for selected schools to discuss homosexuality in the eighth and tenth grade Family Life Curriculum.
A small group of parents and community members disagreed with the changes and formed an organization called Citizens for Responsible Curriculum (CRC). The group campaigned against the curriculum and brought in representatives from national conservative organizations such as Concerned Women for America and Family Research Council to speak against it.
When the district pushed ahead with its plan to pilot the program despite the opposition, CRC and its new allies, Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX) and the Liberty Council, brought a federal lawsuit against the school system. The lawsuit claimed that allowing discussions about homosexuality to take place in the schools and distributing resource materials that included information on gay-positive churches and religious groups gave preference to religions that are tolerant of homosexuality and ignored those churches that teach that homosexuality is wrong. In addition, the lawsuit claimed the school board has an “irrational phobia of the ex-gay community.” 2
The case was eventually settled when the school board voted to scrap the controversial curriculum and begin building a second curriculum from the ground up.Though the lessons on condoms and sexual orientation ultimately made it into the second revision of the curriculum, many parents felt that the new tightly scripted lessons were neither comprehensive nor youth-friendly. Students in the pilot program were similarly unimpressed “Our teacher… she read straight from the manual…It was very strict. Like, you couldn’t ask questions,” one 14-year-old explained to a reporter at the Washington Post.3
Still, opposition groups worked desperately throughout the summer of 2007 to postpone implementation of the curriculum.First, they appealed to the Maryland State School Board asking it to step in and halt the lessons. When the state school board refused to get involved, the groups filed an administrative appeal in circuit court in hopes of overturning its ruling. A circuit court judge ended the delay tactics in October 2007 when he ruled that the lessons could be implemented. Nonetheless opponents vowed to continue their crusade against the program.4
Parents Believe In Free Speech, But Not In Controversial Books
A group of forty parents compelled the Hartford County school system, which enrolls approximately 13,000 high school students, to remove an award-winning novel from the curriculum.5
The controversy revolved around Robert Cormier’s 1974 novel The Chocolate War which details the harsh realities of teenage bullying, including extortion and a complicit school administration. The book was slated for a class called “Living in a Contemporary World,” a course meant to help students transition from middle to high school.
Last fall some parents raised objections to the book’s profanity, mentions of homosexuality, and other sexual content. One parent said the fact that the book is controversial warrants its removal from the curriculum. The parent added, “I’m not an advocate for stopping free speech, but I am very pleased the school system isn’t advocating the book as part of the curriculum.”6
The Chocolate War was the target of similar parental discontent in an Illinois school, where the principal defended the book’s place due to the “complex themes it covers, including conformity and the ethical implications of choices we make.”7
Committee Adamant about Bringing Comprehensive Sex Education to Carroll County
In March 2007, the Carroll County School Board once again rejected the proposal of the Family Life and Human Sexuality Committee, which recommended revising the eighth-grade curriculum to include information about contraceptives and sexually transmitted diseases.8
The current curriculum for eighth-grade students focuses on abstinence. High school students receive information on the efficacy of contraceptives, although abstinence is still stressed. The county has an opt-in policy for its sexuality curriculum lessons, meaning that parents must give written permission in order for their children to attend the classes.
The committee, composed of parents, teachers, students, and health officials, first approached the board suggesting a more comprehensive sexuality education curriculum for eighth-grade students in July 2006. Despite the committee’s report, the board decided to continue to use the abstinence-only-until-marriage curriculum that was in place.9
Toward the end of 2006, the committee once again recommended changes after news surfaced that teenagers in Carroll County were participating in sex parties. Committee members stressed the importance of a comprehensive sexuality education for young people in their community. One resident who attended the committee meeting voiced her support of a new curriculum: “The more the kids are informed, the better off we are.”10 In fact, a local poll found that over 75 percent of parents favored comprehensive sex education11 Opponents of the changes, however, believed comprehensive information in middle school is “too much, too soon.”12
In March 2007, the board once again voted down the committee’s recommendation for a “family life and human sexuality” unit that would have included information on contraceptives and their effectiveness in the context of STD and pregnancy prevention.
Crisis Pregnancy Center Evicted from Schools Over Gum-Sharing Activity
The Rockville Pregnancy Center, a crisis pregnancy center that works to dissuade women facing unintended pregnancies from exercising their right to choose, was ejected from the Montgomery County Public School (MCPS) district after parents complained.
For nearly a decade, volunteers from the center have used “Worth the Wait,” an abstinence-only-until-marriage curriculum that tells students that premarital sex results in physical and emotional consequences, such as pregnancy and low self-esteem.
The parents’ complaints centered in part around “the gum game,” an exercise in which presenters have students offer one another chewed gum. Students invariably refuse. The lesson is intended to show how easily STDs are spread.
A spokesperson for the MCPS called the lesson “unsanitary and completely inappropriate.” He explained that the center “will not be invited back into our schools because of the tremendous lack of judgment this activity demonstrated.”13
PFOX Flier Distribution Stirs Controversy
The group Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX) caused an uproar when it handed out fliers that promoted the organization’s anti-gay message at Montgomery Blair High School.
Students responded to PFOX’s handouts by exposing the group’s homophobia, but administrators could do little to stop the flier circulation. In 2005, the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the Montgomery County Public School System could not discriminate against any non-profit group’s distribution of materials.14
A spokeswoman for PFOX defended the organization: “What we’re saying is that if you have unwanted same sex attraction—and there is a difference—then there are alternatives, and homosexual feelings can be overcome.”15
Maryland’s Youth: Statistical Information of Note
The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene received $569,675 in federal Title V Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Funding in Fiscal Year 2007. The Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage grant requires states to provide three state-raised dollars or the equivalent in services for every four federal dollars received. The state match may be provided in part or in full by local groups. In Maryland, the federal funding is matched with $498,288 from state funds.
The funding is used to run the Maryland Abstinence Education and Coordination Program (MAECP), which is administered by the Center for Maternal and Child Health. The MAECP provides grants to local health departments in addition to providing them with Managing Pressures Before Marriage: An Educational Series for Young People, a curriculum developed by Marion Howard, Ph.D., and Marie Mitchell, R.N., that targets three age groups; pre-teens (fifth and sixth grade), young teens (seventh and eighth grade), and older teens. It provides age-appropriate information and skill-building strategies for youth in an effort to assist them in making positive decisions. Local programs use the pre-teen, young teen, and teen manuals as well as the accompanying video tapes. Some programs also supplement their lessons with other curricula such as the Developmental Assets Profile (DAP).
MAECP also funds 14 local departments of health and two other organizations: the Campaign for our Children and the Maryland School of School Work. This school provides training, professional development, parent and community education, and holds youth-oriented conferences.
The Campaign For Our Children (CFOC) conducts a statewide media campaign. The newest initiative from the grantee is “Marriage Works USA,” an effort “aimed at promoting one of the world’s most cherished institutions: marriage.”18 CFOC says, “The campaign’s core message is a practical, added-value approach that can be summed up in just two words: Marriage Works.” Using messages such as “Married people live longer” and “Married people are happier,” the website promotes marriage as a solution to teen pregnancy problems.19
Title V Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Evaluation
The Maryland Center for Maternal and Child Health evaluated its Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program in 2002. This evaluation process was reviewed by Advocates for Youth in its 2004 report, Five Years of Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Education: Assessing the Impact.20 Advocates for Youth was forced to cite only an abstract of the full evaluation because the Center for Maternal and Child Health chose not to release the final report. From the information available, however, Advocates for Youth determined that participants’ pre- and post-test scores showed no significant change in attitudes or practices regarding abstinence.21 In addition, the proportion of youth who reported that they would remain abstinent until the completion of high school and the proportion of youth who reported abstinent behavior in the year prior to the survey both declined between pre- and post-test.22
Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) and Adolescent Family Life Act (AFLA) Grantees
There are three CBAE grantees in Maryland: Morning Star Baptist Church, Young Men’s Christian Association of Cumberland, MD, Inc., and ZOPSmgmt Firm, Inc. There are three AFLA grantees: Hope Worldwide, University of Maryland, and YMCA of Cumberland County.
Morning Star Baptist Church describes its mission by saying, “We have been called by God to be His light, leading persons out of darkness through Worship, Service, Education, Discipleship, and Stewardship.”23
On its website, “I Have Standards,” ZOPSmgmt Firm, Inc. explains that the purpose of its CBAE grant is “to teach young people the truth about condom use, STDs and HIV/AIDS.”24 ZOPSmgmt Firm uses A.C. Green’s Game Plan and Navigator, two popular, fear-based abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula that disparage use25
SIECUS reviewed Game Plan and found that in order to convince high school students to remain abstinent until marriage, the curriculumrelies on messages of fear and shame, inaccurate and misleading information, and biased views of marriage, sexual orientation, and family structure. In addition, Game Plan fails to provide important information on sexual health including how students can seek testing and treatment if they suspect they may have an STD. Finally, the format and underlying biases of the curriculum do not allow for cultural, community, and individual values, and discourage critical thinking and discussions of alternate points of view in the classroom. For example, Game Plan states that, “Even if you’ve been sexually active, it’s never too late to say no. You can’t go back, but you can go forward. You might feel guilty or untrustworthy, but you can start over again.”26
SIECUS conducted a similar review of Navigator. Wefound that this curriculum relies on messages of fear and shame, inaccurate and misleading information, and biased views of marriage, sexual orientation, and pregnancy options. Navigator fails to provide important information on sexual health, and the format and underlying biases of the curriculum dictate specific values and discourage critical thinking. For example, the authors explain “Navigator does not promote the use of contraceptives for teens. No contraceptive device is guaranteed to prevent pregnancy. Besides, students who do not exercise self-control to remain abstinent are not likely to exercise self-control in the use of a contraceptive device.”27
Federal and State Funding for Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs in FY 2007
Adolescent Health Contact28