by Kaitlyn Shepherd
Policy Analyst for the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
On Dec. 14, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (DPI) released the second draft of proposed statewide standards for Healthful Living, a content area that encompasses both Health/Sex Ed and Physical Education.
The John Locke Foundation’s Center for Effective Education (CEE) has been monitoring the standards review and revision process since it commenced in the spring and summer of 2022. After reviewing the first draft, released in May 2023, the CEE recommended three ways in which standards writers could produce a better draft. We advised standards writers to:
The draft released on Dec. 14 incorporates aspects of all three of the CEE’s recommendations, but while it takes some steps in the right direction, there is still room for improvement.
The standards writing team (SWT) added some language that helps to promote the primacy of parents and guardians in providing health-related information and advice to their children.
For example, under the previous draft, first graders would have been expected to “[i]dentify trusted adults within [their] home, school and community who can be contacted when feeling threatened or harmed” (p. 4). According to the current draft, first graders would be taught to “[i]dentify parents, guardians and trusted adults within [their] home, school and community who can be informed when feeling threatened or harmed” (p. 5) (emphasis added).
Elsewhere, the language of the standards was changed to state that students should be able to “[d]emonstrate how to tell a parent, guardian, or trusted adult when feeling threatened or unsafe (p. 4) (emphasis added).
Encouraging students to bring problems to their parents and approach them for health-related advice promotes healthy family relationships and underscores parents’ right to direct the education and care of their children. It also complements the statutory requirement that reproductive health and safety programs “[p]rovide opportunities that allow for interaction between the parent or legal guardian and the student” (§115C-81.30(a)(7)).
Nevertheless, the draft standards could do a better job of accomplishing these purposes. In multiple places throughout the standards, parents still aren’t listed as “trusted adults.” For example, a seventh-grade objective to “[i]mplement strategies to seek help from a trusted adult when noticing harmful and/or negative thoughts or behaviors” (p. 19) could be revised to read, “Implement strategies to seek help from a parent, guardian, or other trusted adult when noticing harmful and/or negative thoughts or behaviors.”
The SWT also added language intended to align the draft standards more closely with statutory provisions requiring health and safety education programs to promote the standard of “abstinence from sexual activity outside of marriage” (§115C-81.30).
For example, one standard for seventh-grade students was revised to read, “Explain the physical, social, and emotional benefits of choosing to delay sexual activity (abstinence until marriage) for young people” (p. 21) (emphasis added).
An eighth-grade standard in the recently released draft was changed to the following language: “Explain how avoiding sexual activity (abstinence until marriage) is the most effective way to avoid pregnancy and STIs” (p. 24) (emphasis added).
Incorporating language that promotes the standard of abstinence until marriage helps bring the draft standards into greater alignment with state laws requiring that reproductive health and safety programs “[t]each that abstinence from sexual activity outside of marriage is the expected standard for all school-age children.” Doing so will also help set young people up to avoid consequences like sexually transmitted diseases, emotional problems, marital dissolution, and future economic hardship resulting from failure to follow the success sequence.
Standards writers could make additional revisions to promote abstinence as the expectation rather than simply an option. For example, the eighth-grade standard referenced above could be revised to incorporate existing statutory language: “Explain how avoiding sexual activity (abstinence until marriage) is the only certain means of avoiding pregnancy and STIs” (p. 24) (emphasis added). Objective 8.ICHR.2.2 (p. 24) could be amended to say, “Discuss refusal skills and behaviors that are required for avoiding premarital sexual activity (abstinence until marriage).”
Third, standards writers removed certain language that could have encouraged students to make risky choices instead of simply giving them the skills to avoid these situations altogether.
Previously, sixth graders would have been instructed to “[d]emonstrate refusal and negotiation skills that avoid or reduce health risks” (p. 15) (emphasis added). Now the objective would be for them to be able to “[d]emonstrate refusal skills that avoid or reduce health risks” (p. 17).
One problematic objective (9.ICHR.2.1) was changed but could stand further revisions. The proposed objective currently reads, “Evaluate skills and strategies to utilize safer sex options, including delaying participation in sexual activity (abstinence) and contraceptive use” (p. 29). Endorsing contraceptive use in the same breath as premarital abstinence is inconsistent with promoting the statutory expectation of abstinence until marriage.
Additional modifications could be made to promote refusal skills that help students learn to avoid risks rather than negotiation skills and instruction about consent, which could encourage them to take risks. One draft objective that could be revised is the one stating that freshman should be able to “[e]xplain the concept of consent, in relation to communicating and maintaining personal boundaries” (p. 29).
Parents, educators, school personnel, and other concerned North Carolinians can submit feedback on Draft 2 of the Healthful Living standards until the surveys close on Jan. 14. Copies of the proposed standards for Health and Physical Education are available online.