Who does what?
The key players: the RI Department of Education (RIDE) and the District Health & Wellness Subcommittees.
The State (and thus the RI Department of Education), informed by best practices, sets the general standards in collaboration with local communities. These standards and regulations define the minimum requirement and schools can go above and beyond if they have the desire, time, and funds necessary to do so. RIDE is available to provide technical assistance and support to any school that requests it. Department of Education employees do not go to schools to monitor implementation of curricula or what is exactly being taught because that’s a local responsibility.
“According to Rhode Island General Laws, every school district is required to have a District Health & Wellness Subcommittee. District Health and Wellness Subcommittees develop policies, strategies, and plans to enhance the health and wellness of the school community. These subcommittees are charged with making recommendations about physical activity, nutrition, health education, physical education, and staff health promotion. Strategies to improve the health and wellbeing of students and staff involving these four issues should also be incorporated into the district’s strategic plan. See the District Health and Wellness Subcommittee Toolkit” (from the thrive website).
This subcommittee must have more than 50% of its members be “non-school” individuals (e.g. parents in the community). Essentially, these subcommittees and districts monitor how RIDE policies and programs get implemented. School administrators do communicate with RIDE regarding their plans to meet the requirements. Some (if not all) minutes from these subcommittees are available online. Go to the RI.gov website and search for “wellness subcommittee” or “wellness committee.”
According to the Rules and Regulations For School Health Programs , the health education curriculum should be reviewed periodically by a team of teachers, administrators, parents and community members. RIDE and HEALTH recommend that this occur at least every five years.
What if there’s a problem?
The RI Department of Education has a legal department where citizens can file formal complaints if regulations are not being met. RIDE encourages people to exhaust all local channels before a request for a hearing is made.
What data is being collected?
In the past: There used to be a health education assessment (a student assessment), but that was pre-NECAP. When the overall testing approach changed, that changed too and the health assessment was eliminated. Now RIDE does NECAP and will be doing PARCC soon as well.
The Department of Education administers an Annual School Health Report as a self-study of sorts to assure that districts have updated regulatory requirements as necessary and appropriate. The School Health Report is not a measure of “performance,” but rather, it is a tool to ensure that different policies and programs that are health-related are reviewed and updated per regulatory requirements.
Additionally, teachers as well as principals are supposed to fill out School Health Profile forms (a Lead Health Education Teacher Questionnaire and a Principal Questionnaire) that give some more context regarding their health education and policies. The next survey will be completed in 2014. This is a CDC survey that the RI Department of Education is mandated to implement. While in other states, they do a random sampling of schools, because of Rhode Island’s size, every school in the state has to do it.
The principal’s form has no specific mention of sexuality components, and instead mostly just focuses on bigger-picture issues, like who’s doing the teaching, if the classes are mandatory, what education/certification (if any) these educators need to teach health, if the classes are combined health and physical education, etc.
The Teacher Questionnaire is perhaps one of the most relevant documents and it includes (but is not limited to):
- A “Yes/No” answer section that asks if certain topics have been covered, which include: emotional and mental health, growth and development, HIV prevention, human sexuality, pregnancy prevention, STD prevention, suicide prevention, and violence prevention (including bullying, fighting, and homicide).
- A “Yes/No” answer section that asks if certain skills have been covered, including: how to find information/services regarding PHW (personal health & wellness), influence of media on PHW, communication skills, decision-making skills, goal-setting skills, conflict resolution, resistance to peer pressure to engage in unhealthy behaviors
- A “Never/Rarely/Sometimes/Almost Always or Always” answer section that covers various teaching methods and asks if they’ve been used through the course, including: videos, group discussions, cooperative group activities, language/performing/visual arts, pledges for changing behavior or abstaining from a behavior, peer teaching, the Internet, computer-assisted instruction, guest speakers, etc.
- A “Yes/No” answer section about highlighting diversity and values of different cultures
- A “Yes/No” answer section about what activities students have participated in regarding these topics, such as advocating for a health-related issue, identifying advertising in the community designed to influence health behaviors, performing volunteer-work at a local organization that deals with health issues, etc.
- A “Yes/No” answer section specifically targeting the coverage of pregnancy, HIV, STD prevention topics, including: abstinence as the most effective method of prevention, how to correctly use a condom, condom efficacy, risks around multiple sexual partners, socio-cultural influences on sexual behaviors, how to prevent HIV infection, how HIV is transmitted, how HIV affects the human body, compassion for persons living with HIV/AIDS, how to find valid information/services related to HIV and testing, influence of alcohol/drugs on HIV-related risk behaviors
- A “Yes/No” answer section on staff development that has been received, as well as another on areas that need further work/support, and it lists the main topics once again (relevant ones discussed in the first bullet point of this post)