Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk – February 24, 2023

Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk – February 24, 2023

There was an interesting discussion on pending health curriculum legislation in Newark this week at the Worcester County Board of Education meeting with comments made from parents, school administrators and elected school board members. It’s safe to say there are a broad range of opinions on what students should be taught in schools when it comes to sex education specifically. It seems, however, there is also much misinformation circulating about the subject.

House Bill 119, under consideration in Annapolis, would mandate all school system to adopt a comprehensive health education framework for all public schools in Maryland. The rub is this curriculum has essentially already been in place in most counties, but the legislation just makes it law officially.

A bit of balance and perspective is needed on this discussion. Most of the specific concerns about the health education topics being addressed by bill opponents and supporters are already part of health education in local schools. As Annette Wallace, chief safety and academic officer for grades nine through 12, said this week, the bill “would codify what is already educational law.” In her presentation before the school board Tuesday, Tamara Mills, the school system’s coordinator of instruction, aimed to address a whirlwind of misinformation about the bill and what exactly is already being taught in school classrooms. Sweeping changes to health education were made back in 2019 by the state. In 2021, the state revised and approved the current health education framework being used in the school system. Mills said the Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR) COMAR then required whatever curriculum the school system chooses align to that framework. “Whether the bill is voted down or approved this is still the framework that COMAR requires us to teach, or our curriculum to align with, I should say,” Mills said. Mills admitted the heartburn over the proposed legislation is understandable to a degree because it’s confusing, stating it “would require” school systems to adopt curriculum. The reality is, “It’s been done since 2021. That’s already been done,” according to Mills.

The basic premise behind the opposition from most local elected officials is the concept of the state once again dictating with a broad policy reach how each jurisdiction should teach its kids. This is understandable, but the beef is mistimed, and the bill is caught in the crosshairs too late. The bill is largely inconsequential. Nonetheless, I agree wholeheartedly with the concept of the state overstepping and trumping local rule. Former Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jon Andes, a current school board member and the county’s liaison to Maryland Association of Boards of Education, put it best when he said, “Curriculum decisions should be made by local boards of education, and we need as much flexibility as we can to implement the curriculum that makes sense for our students. What might work in Howard County or Baltimore County or Baltimore City may not work in Worcester County in delivering instruction.”

A call to action was made this week by the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce regarding Senate Bill 803 and House Bill 1256. The legislation provides a phase-out of the state’s tip credit and would mandate Maryland restaurants pay a minimum wage of $15/hour rather than the current $3.63/hour. The tip credit elimination has been targeted for years in Maryland and across the country but most restaurant operators and employees themselves do not support the change. It’s another example of government trying to fix something that is not broken.

The call to action involves an email campaign to legislators. The letter writing effort states, “the average server earns $27 an hour with their tips. And in the case that a tipped employee did not make enough tips to earn at least minimum wage, then the employer must make up the difference. Like all other employees, tipped employees are guaranteed by law to make at least minimum wage – so there is no such thing as a “subminimum wage”. … Servers want to be Servers because of the high earning potential, otherwise they would choose to work in other restaurant positions. Servers should not be forced to earn less money because lawmakers took their tips away. Act now and contact your legislators. Tell them that keeping the tip credit means keeping high paying Server jobs.”

A public hearing will be held March 2 on the legislation.

Incredible is the only way to describe the outpouring of love and support sent our way after the sudden passing of long-time staff member Shawn Soper last week. Shawn was widely revered and the volume of emails, texts, flowers and letters highlighted what a special person he was to many. It has been special to read all the comments and salutes.

Worcester County Commission President Chip Bertino took a moment before the commissioners’ meeting prayer to recognize Shawn’s work. His comments were much appreciated. He said, “those of us who read local journalism on a regular basis were saddened by the news of the passing of Shawn Soper of the Coast Dispatch. He practiced his craft well. He was objective. He was unbiased. He was truthful and he had a hell of a lot of integrity. It was a sad day and a tragic time for his family, his friends and colleagues at The Dispatch and all of us in this community. For those who have or still do work with a reporter’s notebook or labor over a deadline, Shawn Soper made the journalism profession in this community much better, and he will be missed. May he rest in peace.”

About The Author: Steven Green

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The writer has been with The Dispatch in various capacities since 1995, including serving as editor and publisher since 2004. His previous titles were managing editor, staff writer, sports editor, sales account manager and copy editor. Growing up in Salisbury before moving to Berlin, Green graduated from Worcester Preparatory School in 1993 and graduated from Loyola University Baltimore in 1997 with degrees in Communications (journalism concentration) and Political Science.