By Marian Firke Program Coordinator (Prevention and Education)
A newly passed education law has opened the door for K-12 schools to use federal funding to support age-appropriate dating and sexual violence prevention education programs for students at every grade level. This language is not as strong as the language included in the “Teach Safe Relationships Act” that was introduced earlier this year. Nevertheless, the inclusion of dating and sexual violence prevention in the omnibus federal education act is a tremendous step forward. The Every Student Succeeds Act is the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. It replaces the 2002 law known as No Child Left Behind as the most current omnibus federal education law. Much of the recent news coverage related to this law has focused on changes to high-stakes testing, teacher evaluation and accountability, and the increased state-level autonomy in determining appropriate standards for education. The language authorizing use of federal funds for prevention activities is contained in Title IV of the act, which is now referred to as the “21st Century Schools” title.
“SEC. 4108. ACTIVITIES TO SUPPORT SAFE AND HEALTHY STUDENTS. Subject to section 4106(f), each local educational agency, or consortium of such agencies, that receives an allocation under section 4105(a) shall use a portion of such funds to develop, implement, and evaluate comprehensive programs and activities that— ‘(1) are coordinated with other schools and community-based services and programs; (2) foster safe, healthy, supportive, and drug-free environments that support student academic achievement; (3) promote the involvement of parents in the activity or program; (4) may be conducted in partnership with an institution of higher education, business, nonprofit organization, community-based organization, or other public or private entity with a demonstrated record of success in implementing activities described in this section; and (5) may include, among other programs and activities— […] (C) programs or activities that— […] (iv) improve instructional practices for developing relationship-building skills, such as effective communication, and improve safety through the recognition and prevention of coercion, violence, or abuse, including teen and dating violence, stalking, domestic abuse, and sexual violence and harassment;”
This language makes dating and sexual violence prevention an allowable activity—one that can be supported using federal funding—which will make these programs easier to implement locally. This federal change comes at an auspicious moment for Maryland. We are very excited that Delegate Eric Luedtke is re-introducing legislation to require age-appropriate abuse prevention and education programs for all K-12 students in Maryland, in the form of HB 72. As Delegate Luedtke wrote last year, “Such education, dubbed Erin’s Law in honor of victim’s advocate Erin Merryn, has been made a part of schooling in a number of states. It can be done in an age-appropriate way, and would empower Maryland’s children with strategies if they become victims of abuse. While the legislature does not and should not discuss details of curriculum, we have clearly stated in our laws general topics for health education curricula. We should do so with this issue as well.” 26 states have now passed their own versions of “Erin’s Law” to mandate age-appropriate abuse prevention education. It is time for Maryland to do the same.