The Maryland State Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to make environmental education a part of every student's education, but put off making it a graduation requirement.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which had advocated for making environmental studies a part of the curriculum, had hoped for stronger requirements than what was passed by the board, but the nonprofit advocacy group said the board's action was a "partial victory."
Under the new regulation, high school students will not need to take any additional courses, but environmental education will be added into existing courses, such as biology. Every five years, school districts will have to report to the state on whether they have environmental subject matter in courses that every student must take.
"The onus needs to be on the school system, not on the students" to prove that courses have been taken, said Donna Hill Staton, a board member.
Don Baugh, vice president for education at the bay foundation, said the organization would work with state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick to help address the school board's concerns.
"This does not maintain the status quo," Baugh said. "I think this is an infusion of expectation into schools … that environmental education is not considered optional. It is not fit in."
Baugh said there are still school districts where students are not exposed to environmental science before graduation. But board members said they don't want to add another requirement to the plates of high schoolers, giving them less flexibility in shaping their high school program. Financial literacy recently became a requirement.
"Every time we add something what does that take away?" Staton said. "I think we are starting to overwhelm the system."
Board Chairman James H. DeGraffenreidt told the state Department of Education staff after the graduation requirement was defeated in a split vote that more work had to be done to improve the language in the proposed regulation.
But some board members said they would put a high priority on making sure students have environmental knowledge when they graduate. "I don't know how many things are as important as people understanding the environment," said board member Ivan C.A. Walks.
If the regulation had been passed, Maryland would have become the first state in the nation to have an environmental graduation requirement, according to the bay foundation.