With a little help from her daughter, District 16 Delegate Ariana Kelly has proposed the inclusion of a definition of “affirmative consent” into the seventh and tenth grade sex education classes in the Montgomery County Public Schools.
Students in those grades learn about pregnancy prevention, HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases, but “nothing about the basic concept” that the sex must be consensual, Kelly said, adding, “Shouldn’t that go first?”
Her one-page bill, which is co-sponsored by District 19 Delegate Marice Morales, defines “affirmative consent” as “clear, unambiguous, knowing, informed and voluntary agreement between all participants to engage in each act within the course of sexual activity.”
The Montgomery County Board of Elections is opposed to the bill.
“The Board believes in maintaining local authority to determine educational policy and curriculum for its students,” it said in a statement. The sex education curriculum is developed by parents, school nurses, health care professionals, health education teachers, students and school-based administrators and should remain in their hands, the statement continued.
The board called the discussion of consent neither applicable or appropriate for seventh graders. Instead, the seventh grade curriculum “focuses on waiting to engage in sexual activity, peer pressure, and the potential consequences of sexual activity,” according to the school board’s statement.
Consent is discussed in the 10th grade curriculum.
Tenth graders are taught that a person gives consent “when he/she freely and actively agrees to do something sexual with someone else; however, the person still has the right to change his/her mind at any point. A person is NOT consenting if they do not actively agree, have been forced or pressured in some way or are in a state where they are incapable of full consent (such as when asleep, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or below the age of consent,” according to the statement.
Kelly said she didn’t disagree that local educators should be able to work out how to include her definition into the curriculum, but she was adamant that seventh grade is not too early to broach the topic.
Her bill to mandate the inclusion of “affirmative consent” in those two grades was heard before the Montgomery County legislative delegation earlier this month.
Her daughter, Maeve Sanford-Kelly, testified at the local hearing. The North Bethesda Middle School student said her generation listens to music and watches movies that include sex. And the news is filled with sexual accusations and crimes, she testified.
Yet, she said, “There is not a disclaimer that says sexual assault is wrong. It doesn’t say that sexual violence is wrong or that rape is inexcusable,” she said.
“We have to be taught that.”
Del. Kelly said that incidents of alleged sexual abuse that have permeated the news, involving such figures as President-elect Donald Trump, Fox News Executive Roger Ailes, television star Bill Cosby and Sanford University student Brock Turner, caused her to propose this legislation.
These incidents point to the need to let our teenagers understand that sex must be consensual,
“This is such an important concept. I want it to be seen on the same level as pregnancy prevention, HIV, STDs and bullying,” she said.
The Montgomery County delegation has not yet decided whether to get behind the bill, although Kelly said it has a lot of support. Her fellow legislators called it “a common sense idea,” Kelly said.
If the delegation does support it, the bill will move to the state legislature in January.