Schools to teach about abusive relationships

All public schools in Virginia must follow the state’s Standards of Learning for core courses like math, science and history. Beginning next year, they’ll also have to ensure that students learn about abusive relationships, too.

A bill passed by the General Assembly requires that the SOL objectives on dating violence and abusive relationships be taught at least once during middle school and twice during high school.

Senate Bill 906, sponsored Sen. R. Creigh Deeds of Charlottesville, received unanimous approval from the House and Senate. It now needs Gov. Bob McDonnell’s signature to become law.

The measure builds on a law passed by the assembly in 2007. That year, legislators required the Virginia Board of Education to include “dating violence and the characteristics of abusive relationships” in the state’s family life education curriculum.

SB 906 will ensure that secondary school students are exposed to the material. A 2009 study found that schools already are meeting the intent of the bill.

The legislation grew out of a final project students presented in June for the College Leaders Program at the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia. Deeds was one of the judges of the projects.

In their project, Hassan Abdelhalim, Emily Bowles, Christopher Diming, Katherine Hunter, Lena Morrill and Sarah Ulmer presented an outline for what later became SB 906, Deeds said. Then the students asked Deeds to sponsor the measure in the 2011 legislative session.

“They not only pestered me and got in touch with me and attained my commitment,” Deeds said. They also “showed up at all of the committee meetings, and they were dead serious about this.”

Tragedies like the killing of U.Va. student Yeardley Love last year have underscored the need for education about abusive relationships. Authorities have charged Love’s former boyfriend with her murder.

But some educators wonder if mandating SOLs on relationship issues is a bit much.

“I think it overreaches, but almost all the SOLs of late are of the same caliber. The public schools are asked to solve every problem – to cover every possible contingency – and this is just another thing that has been added,” said Kitty Boitnott, president of the Virginia Education Association.

But Boitnott added: “Let’s face it – SOLs drive everything in the classroom. So if it wasn’t part of an SOL, it probably wouldn’t be taught.”
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