BY MARY KATE MURPHY, Staff Writer
Moore County Schools is now prepared to start using updated social studies standards for elementary and middle schools that were due to go into effect a year ago.
The State Board of Education approved those new standards for teaching social studies and history in the summer of 2021, to be put into use for the 2021-2022 school year. But as debates about Critical Race Theory raged on nationwide, some Moore County school board members harbored suspicions that the standards might be a gateway for the previously obscure legal framework to be taught in classrooms.
So the Board of Education narrowly voted to hold off on updating the K-8 social studies curriculum taught in Moore County Schools. Board members also said that the summer approval gave school staff insufficient time to adapt their lesson plans to the new standards by August.
During the board’s work session last week, Schools Superintendent Tim Locklair told the board that not only has the district’s social studies curriculum been updated to incorporate the new standards, it’s now available for public perusal online.
“Last year you voted to delay the implementation of the K-8 social students standards until we could have better-developed curriculum resources, we could have some training for our teachers and we could plan for the implementation,” said Locklair.
“We now have all of our curricular resources and materials now posted forward-facing for our parents to review, look at and ask questions about as they might like.”
The district had planned professional development for the 2021-2022 school year to guide social studies teachers in using the new standards. But had they been in place last year that input would have come while they were already in the process of teaching them.
Diane Fey, the district’s specialist for advanced studies and social studies, said that the new standards add an emphasis on inquiry and analysis of primary and secondary historical sources.
This summer, a team of social studies teachers working on the curriculum has developed extensive resources for teachers in kindergarten through third grade. That’s so they can more easily work social studies into grades where literacy is considered the highest priority.
“We want to give them that kind of ready-made, pick up, this is what good social studies instruction looks like and this is how you can meaningfully integrate that within your classroom,” said Fey.
“Going forward I know our teachers have a good grounding in the standards, they have a good understanding of how these resources fit within those standards and within the inquiry strand.”
The district’s curriculum staff consulted with board members Libby Carter and Robert Levy in developing the social studies and history curriculum. Both praised the work that went into it and the final products, which can be viewed on Moore County Schools’ website.
“It’s absolutely amazing to see how your curriculum team has pulled together what they deemed essential in order to meet the state standards. I was so impressed with how very carefully you have filtered through. The prospect of Critical Race Theory does not rear its ugly head in our social studies curriculum,” said Carter.
“I felt that there was an excellent job of giving overall coverage, looking at two sides to a question.”
Levy, who led last year’s effort to delay implementation, said that the curriculum reflects “an effort to present a good, solid American history,” and that the supplemental materials attached to it reflect the experiences of diverse populations without weaving in politically charged viewpoints.
“A lot of it depends on the teachers. A teacher can go into left field and do all sorts of things, so our curriculum is only the first step,” he said. “I know that your team will be looking at this and making sure that we present all aspects of history from a fair standpoint, but keep the ‘woke’ out. Keep the political dogma out and let the kids critically think about what their positions should be.”
The board previously voted to implement the new standards for the 2022-2023 school year. So the updated curriculum can go into effect without further action by the school board.
But this coming week, the board will be asked to endorse Moore County Schools’ curriculum dealing with an entirely separate but also controversial topic: puberty and reproductive education.
District staff have recently overhauled that curriculum for the elementary and middle grades as well. It begins in fourth grade with a unit on healthy relationships and puberty designed to be taught over two or three days.
The content becomes more advanced through eighth grade, when the unit takes about seven days to get through. By middle school the class deals with how to recognize and avoid sexually transmitted infections and the long-term implications of teen pregnancy.
“I want to first of all commend the team for having done what I believe, personally, is an excellent job. This is perhaps the most difficult type of a course to create,” said Levy, who characterized the curriculum as a “Moore County program” versus a “Wake County program.”
“The course itself in my opinion is very, very solid: sticking to the facts, sticking to biology and sticking to what children need to know about such things.”
Curriculum designed by education experts at East Carolina University served as a foundation. A group of eight health and PE teachers from around the district reviewed the curriculum.
“These eight teachers wordsmith every word,” said Donna Gephart, the district’s director for curriculum and instruction.
“They were very adamant that this be reflective of what they could be proud to teach in Moore County.”
Reproductive health classes are taught by PE teachers: boys by a male teacher and girls by a female teacher. Students must have permission from a parent or guardian to participate. Those who do not return a form, or whose parents cannot be contacted, participate in an alternate activity.
If the board approves the draft curriculum, it could be back up for revision in the foreseeable future. The state Department of Public Instruction is also starting work on revising its own standards for the healthful living curriculum. Those standards serve as the framework of what local school districts must teach, and include everything from reproductive health to fitness, nutrition, responsible social media use and the dangers of controlled substances.
“These are difficult topics and some parents do not embrace the idea of discussing them at home. Thus the state has put the responsibility on our healthy living courses,” said Carter.
“I know how much work went into this program. It’s phenomenal, and I think we can have great pride in adapting a bigger program that fits our community and putting it out there for everyone to see.”
Contact Mary Kate Murphy at (910) 693-2479 or firstname.lastname@example.org.