Local USBE member votes against new state health education standards

Stock image | Photo by shironosov/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — It’s been 22 years since the Utah State Board of Education has updated its core standards for health education.

A decision by the Utah State Board of Education last month changed that, but while a board member who resides in St. George said she is happy with many aspects of the process leading up to the final vote, ultimately she cast her ballot against the changes.

The new core standards, which will be fully implemented in 2020, have many firsts for the Beehive State such as having a stronger focus on mental health and beginning the standards in kindergarten.

The state board adopted the changes in April, although the standards won’t be fully implemented until fall 2020. Local school districts, such as Washington County and Iron County, can continue using the state’s 1997 health standards during the 2019-2020 pilot year.

The core standards are organized into the following strands:

  • Health foundations and protective factors of healthy self.
  • Mental and emotional health.
  • Safety and disease prevention.
  • Substance abuse prevention.
  • Nutrition.
  • Human development.

According to the state standards, they are meant to build off each other and allow students to enhance skills each grade year. In kindergarten, health education is meant to be an introduction to healthy behaviors. For middle and high school students, the focus lies more on establishing a healthy, safe lifestyle as well as emphasizing behaviors that resist unhealthy choices.

Among the changes was aligning the standards with state law, said Michelle Boulter, a state board member who resides in St. George.

Boulter, who advocates for more local education control and protecting parental rights, was one of the state board members who initially voted against changing the health standards, as well as during the final vote of the new standards in April.

She said one of the main reasons she voted against changing the them is because nationalized health standards were implemented, instead of focusing on updating Utah-led standards. However, she also had specific concerns with some of the focuses of the new standards.

“When the first draft came out of the standards, there was hardly anything about abstinence as it’s referred to in state law,” she told St. George News.

Health Education Amendments, also known as House Bill 71 in the 2019 Utah Legislative Session, was passed and includes clarifications on what educators can say about contraceptive methods or devices.

It says that the state board shall make rules that instruction must prohibit the “advocacy or encouragement of the use of contraceptive methods or devices.” However, health instruction in schools should include information on the effectiveness, limitations and risks involving contraceptive methods and devices, according to the law.

“I’m grateful that they put in abstinence,” she said, referring to the writing committee who created the standards.

“Sex education is the role of the parents and the families and not the role of the schools,” she added. “And we just need to make sure that whatever the school teaches, it’s not setting aside the moral convictions of the family.”

Boulter also said she has concerns with the amount of focus on mental health that’s in the new standards.

“I do want to just caution that sometimes when we put too much emphasis on mental health, we can cause more damage than harm,” Boulter said. “I  just don’t want to inadvertently trigger a child.”

Although she feels there’s too much emphasis on mental health, she said she has faith that districts and individual schools will know where the natural boundary lies regarding mental health.

Changing the standards took two years to complete and required the writing committee to meet more than 30 times, hold six public meetings and conduct a survey with over 1,000 responses.

In addition to adding emphasis on mental health, the standards include topics not covered by previous provisions, such as cyberbullying and e-cigarettes.

Something Boulter said she’s proud of when it comes to the new standards is the added focus on families.

“Students should be encouraged to involve parents and families in the skills and lessons they learn,” the standards reference multiple times.

Despite her concerns and voting against the new standards, she said it was one of the best processes for writing standards that she’s seen.

“Our writing team did an amazing job taking into account public comment from parents and also concerns from board members and making a lot of changes.”

Although the changes have been adopted, Boulter said parents should pay attention to what their students are learning and can bring any concerns to local governing boards or the state board.

For more information on the Utah Health Education Core Standards, you can visit the state board’s website.

Email: mheckenliable@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews | @markeekaenews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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