The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is concerned that state education officials have created a "major loophole" in the proposed regulations that would make environmental education part of every high-schooler's studies.
In September, the Maryland State Board of Education voted unanimously to make environmental literacy part of the curriculum. However, it is not clear whether the vote made it a graduation requirement.
The new regulation, which the board is receiving public comment on until Feb. 3, says that students must take a social studies course, a science course or an AP Environmental Science course in order to graduate.
Don Baugh, vice president of education at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, interprets the language to mean that school districts would not be required to add environmental material.
"When we read the language, we see they created a major loophole. It gives counties the opportunity to treat it as a paper exercise," Baugh said. "They scuttled the requirement."
Maryland was positioned to be on the forefront of a movement to require environmental education for every student, Baugh said. "It is a major step backward for our environmental literacy in Maryland," he said.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation wants districts to have to prove to state officials that the environment is part of the curriculum.
On Thursday, members of the state board did not respond to requests for interviews.
William Reinhard, a spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education, said, "The state board welcomes input on proposed regulations, and takes all comments into consideration before making any regulation final. Board members are actively soliciting input by the Feb. 3 deadline."
After considering the public comment, the state school board will vote on whether to pass the regulation or amend it.
State board members have expressed concerns that high school students' four years not be overloaded with required courses, so that they can take electives and pursue their interests in the arts or vocational programs.
The state also requires that students take health, technology education, economics and other subjects beyond the core courses of English, math, history and science. Financial literacy recently became a requirement.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation had hoped to get around those concerns by pushing for the state to add environmental studies to the required science courses.