Carozza Questions Health Education Bill In Committee Hearing

BERLIN– Legislation that would establish a comprehensive health education framework continues to draw criticism from local elected officials.

Last week, the Worcester County Commissioners voiced sharp objections to a state bill regarding health education that they said would force issues like gender identification and human sexuality onto students far too early. Just a day later, Sen. Mary Beth Carozza shared her concerns about the bill, which she strongly opposes, during a hearing of the Senate Education, Energy and Environment Committee.

“For the life of me I still cannot figure out why we need this bill,” Carozza said.

The bill, HB 119 in the house and SB 199 in the senate, would require the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) to develop a comprehensive health education framework and would have local school systems develop age-appropriate curriculum consistent with that framework. Sen. Clarence Lam, one of the bill’s sponsors, told the committee the bill was generally misunderstood. He said MSDE developed the framework in 2019 and that counties had been developing their curriculums in accordance with that framework. With recent concerns that some counties were moving away from that framework, he said he wanted to see the it codified. Maryland State Superintendent Mohammed Choudhury agreed and said the legislation would simply ensure the framework remained in place.

Carozza said she’d received countless calls and emails about the bill.

“My first reaction was this can’t be right because we would leave this up to local school districts,” she said during the committee hearing.

She said she didn’t understand why the bill was needed, particularly as the state was implementing the wide-ranging Blueprint for Maryland’s Future. She said superintendents had been reporting that that array of aspects to the Blueprint were already taking up all of their time.

“That doesn’t even get into the funding challenges,” she said.

With that in mind she said she’d read SB 199 and the associated testimony very closely. While Lam touted the “opt out” measures included in the bill, which would let parents opt their children out of the instruction, Carozza indicated that didn’t ease her concerns. She said there were multiple examples of failed opt-out provisions where parents never even knew that option was available to them.

“There’s a disconnect there, which is why some believe opt-in would be better if this bill ends up passing,” she said.

Carozza said she respected Choudhury, who has spent a fair amount of time on the Eastern Shore, but didn’t understand why he was supporting the legislation.

“You have the superintendents that are opposing this, you have the boards of education that are opposing this, you’ve got  hundreds of thousands of emails from parents, and so we look at this and it’s like, why?” she said. “Where’s the need and where’s the good?  I understand the background but I guess I want to better understand why we would not listen to our superintendents and our boards of education and our parents on this one.”

Choudhury said that that while some parents were opposed to the framework there were many who supported it. He said the bill had been turned into a controversial topic when it shouldn’t be one.

Carozza said officials were spending too much time talking about the health education framework when Blueprint implementation should be the focus. She said that when officials were hearing from superintendents, school boards and parents—who don’t have lobbyists or associations to represent them—they had to consider those voices.

“I just want you to know we have the same shared goal about our students’ education but when something like this comes up, it just takes us off our game and delays us moving forward,” Carozza said. “Id’ ask you to reconsider this.”

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.