All Maryland school systems must integrate a thorough environmental education program into their pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade classes, according to a unanimous state board ruling.
The regulation calls on school systems to "provide in public schools a comprehensive, multidisciplinary environmental education program infused with current curricular offerings and aligned with the Maryland Environmental Literacy Curriculum."
Although the board decided not to make environmental education an official graduation requirement, schools must teach a breadth of topics, from "Flow of Matter and Energy" and "Humans and Natural Resources" to "Environment & Society," which will dissect cultural attitudes and social change.
Additionally, all students must complete a "local action" project to improve the natural environment. Whether that is an individual effort or a school initiative is a choice for local school systems, said state board spokesman Bill Reinhard.
Students will not need to pass any additional tests to graduate, and the law will not change the testing topics of state exams.
It's not clear how the regulation will affect Montgomery County Public Schools, which are already saturated with environmental lessons, said Laurie Halverson, vice president for educational issues for the Montgomery County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations.
Halverson has one child at Cabin John Middle School and another at Winston Churchill High School. Between butterfly gardens, vegetable patches, "Green Teams" that collect recycling, and special science classes, "I think MCPS is already doing all or most of it," Halverson said.
For 45 years, Montgomery has had an Outdoor Education program that includes overnight trips in its sixth-grade curriculum. "They learn about the watershed, use investigative tools like maps and compasses, collect organisms in the water, check water quality, do a predator-prey simulation," said Laurie Jenkins, supervisor of the outdoor and environmental education program for MCPS.
"It's definitely embedded in the curriculum," Jenkins said, but the regulation provided a chance "to reflect on if what we have in place is working."
Reinhard said he was aware that many districts already taught environmental topics. "What the board did today was kick that up a notch, and make systems accountable so we can make sure no one's dropped the ball," he said.
Beginning in 2015, superintendents will have to certify every five years to the state superintendent that the regulation's requirements are met.
Virginia schools must provide students a Chesapeake Bay watershed experience, as well as local restoration and protection project opportunities, in accordance with the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement.