2019 Session: Democrats work to update health classes in public schools

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Democrats in the state legislature are working to update health classes taught in public schools to reflect what they say are the real issues facing students today.

According to the bill, Arkansas is home to the highest rates of students who have considered suicide, are considered obese, have used smokeless tobacco and have gotten pregnant, and they are taking note. 

The sponsor of the legislation, St. Sen. Will Bond, D-Little Rock, said he and fellow capital city senator, Joyce Elliott, got the idea from the Girls and Boys State at the Capitol. The students worked on mock legislation that would address the health challenges they are currently facing. Bond and Elliott turned it into a real bill.

“We have a lot of room for improvement, may be the nice way to put it,” Bond told the Senate Education Committee Wednesday. “We realized that this was something that had been kind of brewing up from kids who are actually going through these health classes.”

The proposal would make sure topics like mental health, substance abuse, tobacco use, teen pregnancy and diet get addressed within the Arkansas Department of Education’s (ADE) health curriculum.

“It’s evident that something is amiss,” said St. Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock.

ADE’s curriculum and instruction director told the committee that many of these categories are currently listed in its health standards that schools then base their curricula on.

“Limiting it to one curriculum in the state and not at the local level is the concern,” Stacy Smith said.  

A mother of teenagers and a wife of a high school educator explained to the committee what current health classes are like.

“I saw the standards delivered in an ad hoc manner with my oldest. I think we’re on the same track with my youngest,” said Alicia Hamilton.

Like ADE, Hamilton would rather not limit schools to one state curriculum but believes they need more guidance, potentially through a list of evidence-based curricula.

ADE and other lawmakers delayed a vote on the bill, asking Bond to change the wording in it from “curriculum” to “standards.”

“I thought there were some other sections of the bill that were really keeping the department from getting on board, not just the semantics, just to be blunt,” Bond said.

Smith also asked him to push back the timeline from the next school year.

Bond plans to run the bill with the changes next week. 

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