The Frederick County school board has approved a change that streamlines how some family life and HIV education curriculum materials are brought into the classroom.
The change aims to speed up a process that currently can take about a year to complete because of the layers of discussion and approval that must be satisfied. Board members voted recently to give more authority to the Frederick County Public Schools Family Life Advisory Committee (FLAC) instead of the current multi-level and lengthy approval process for any related instructional materials.
Board member David Bass said the change “makes sense in terms of allowing curriculum to be implemented in a timely manner. I think the one year is just entirely too long between approval and getting curriculum into the classrooms.”
Board member Karen Yoho said she was comfortable voting to approve FLAC’s new authority. In the past, she said, the board has hardly discussed materials that have come before it for approval.
“If we’d had a bunch of controversial things that had come back to hit us in the face, I would say, yes, we definitely want to be involved, but that has not been an issue the whole time I’ve been on the board and prior to that,” Yoho said.
The main reason for the recommendation was to reduce wait time for resources to get into classrooms, said Brian Griffith, FCPS curriculum specialist for secondary health and physical education. The school system describes family life education as “comprehensive family life and HIV prevention education to students in schools as part of comprehensive health education.”
The only request from board members was that they are made aware of the materials and resources that are approved. Griffith said a process for informing board members can be written into the committee’s bylaws.
Kevin Cuppett, executive director of curriculum, instruction and innovation, described the current process to board members during their April 14 meeting.
Once FCPS curriculum writers identify new resources for family life and HIV education, the resources are presented to FLAC and reviewed over the course of two meetings. If approved by FLAC, they then move on to the FCPS Curriculum and Instruction Committee. Once the resources get through the Curriculum and Instruction Committee, they move on to the board for final approval. The resource is then prepared for implementation in schools.
The current process takes at least a year, Cuppett said, and it’s usually impossible to implement any new resource within the same school year.
The ability to make this move comes as a result of changes in the Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR), which now allow for local school districts to determine their own policies regarding approval procedures. Prior to the change in COMAR, it was mandated that local boards of education approve all family life materials. When rules changed in 2019, FLAC reviewed three options on how to move forward, Cuppett said.
The first was to keep the process the same as it is now. The second was to remove the approval process entirely. In this instance, curriculum writers would recommend new resources, and FLAC would simply act as an advisory body. The third option—and the one recommended by FLAC to the board during the meeting—was to implement FLAC as the sole approval body and authority. The committee also recommended that the student member of the board and the board member who sits on the committee gain voting power.
Board member Jason Johnson asked why the Curriculum and Instruction Committee wouldn’t be included in the new approval process.
Cuppett said the Curriculum and Instruction Committee will still review large curricular items such as textbooks. The new approval process will only handle small resources that are timely.
“These are individual small resources...in other content areas, these are things that teachers have the latitude to identify,” Cuppett said. “So the oversight that the FLAC committee is recommending is that they be the final approvers ... nothing is going to get to the FLAC committee if it’s inappropriate; it’s going to be screened by our curriculum specialists.”
The new process was approved by the board 6-1. Jason Johnson voted against the motion. It is unclear when the new approval process will be implemented due to the fact that FLAC bylaws now have to be rewritten.
Johnson said he understands the need to speed things up, but he doesn’t think the board should be left out.
“This is going to be sensitive materials and ... it has oversight for a reason ...,” he said.