ANNAPOLIS – A bill to appraise risky behavior among high school students received preliminary Senate approval Friday after an attempt to excise sexual health questions from the survey was rejected.
The bill would require the State Department of Education to administer a survey developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that examines adolescents’ sexual behavior, eating habits and use of alcohol and tobacco. It passed the House of Delegates last month and is expected to receive final Senate approval today.
Federal grants in research and prevention are linked to the survey and Maryland has lost out on them, said Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, though no exact figures were given.
About 35 states administered the survey in 2001 and Baltimore City also participates.
Some senators, however, said they were worried the survey contained inappropriate questions on sexual partners, activity and contraception, among other issues, for a high school setting. They tried to strike those questions.
“We need to get back to reading, writing and arithmetic and get this kind of social policy out of schools,” said Sen. Alex Mooney, R-Frederick.
Under the bill, students taking the survey need parental permission. The State Department of Education would have the authority to delete up to a third of the questions it deems inappropriate, Pinsky said. The survey is confidential, though parents may request a complete copy of the questionnaire.
“Unless you know the breadth of the problem, it really restricts the (education) department,” Pinsky said.
The survey is necessary for the state to understand the type and scope of sexual behavior among teens and helps in addressing risky behavior, said Sen. Paula Hollinger, D-Baltimore County.
“It’s putting your head in the sand to think we have no teen pregnancy, no teen venereal disease,” she said. “This state is missing out on federal CDC funds if we don’t do this survey.”
The survey was developed in 1990 to “determine prevalence of risk behaviors, assess changes in the prevalence of risk behaviors and examine the co-occurrence of risk behaviors,” according to a legislative analysis of the bill.
It is administered by the CDC every two years to a sample of high school students nationwide. Maryland may be eligible to receive funds to offset the cost of conducting the assessment.
The state already gives two biannual adolescent risk behavior surveys, though neither addresses sexual health or eating habits.
Also Friday, a House bill to allow counties to enter into public-private partnerships to finance school construction won Senate approval. The Senate had passed a similar bill last week, virtually assuring the legislation crafted to address the estimated $4 billion in school construction and renovation needs will become law.