WJ student’s consent education bill passed

Julia Hananel

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Photo courtesy of Maeve Sanford-Kelly

Sophomore Maeve Sanford-Kelly testifies at a local hearing to support the passage of her bill, which requires all Maryland public schools to teach sexual consent in their health curriculums. Governor Hogan signed it into law in May 2018.

For WJ freshman Maeve Sanford-Kelly, being politically active is second nature, and she’s already taken big strides: Sanford-Kelly’s efforts are largely the reason why sexual consent must be taught in Maryland public schools.

When she was just 12 years old, Sanford-Kelly proposed legislation at the state level requiring sexual consent to be part of Montgomery County schools’ health curriculum. The bill eventually expanded to include all Maryland schools and was signed into law by Gov. Larry Hogan in May of last year.

Disturbed by the insensitivity surrounding sexual assault during the 2016 election, Sanford-Kelly decided to turn her frustration into action.

“Consent had always been a discussion in my house,” Sanford-Kelly said. “But I really started thinking about it after the 2016 election, when I saw the disregard our newly elected president had for consent.”

The first time the bill was introduced, it made its way through the MD House of Representatives, but died in the Senate during the 2017 session. However, the emergence of the #MeToo movement shed light on the issue of sexual assault and the bill was reintroduced with new vigor.

“The movement made it more obvious why the bill was necessary,” Kelly said.

Sophomore Alina Kahn said consent is a crucial aspect of sex education that is often missing from the discussion in schools.

“Schools have been trying to scare students out of having sex by pushing abstinence,” Kahn said. “But they haven’t really been talking about actually deciding to do it and consenting.”

Kahn said the new requirement to teach consent will allow students to have these values deeply rooted from a young age.

“It’s important that both boys and girls know about consent, when it’s okay to do something and when it isn’t,” Kahn said. “If students don’t learn it now, they might never learn.”

Sophomore Koko Bond-Razak said he hopes the new requirements will bring awareness to the issue of sexual assault.

“A lot of people still don’t know much about consent at all,” he said. “Victims are still marginalized and not taken seriously. Hopefully this new legislation will make people more respectful and more aware.”

Sanford-Kelly’s mother, Ariana Kelly (a 1994 graduate of WJ), is currently a Maryland state legislator and is a former member of NARAL Maryland, a pro-choice advocacy organization. Having her mother working in these areas exposed Sanford-Kelly to a variety of issues relating to sexual assault and consent.

“The idea of putting in a bill really came from my mom,” Sanford-Kelly said. “I knew I wanted a change to happen in the curriculum, and she proposed that we take it to the Montgomery County Delegation. From there it became statewide.”

As of now, Sanford-Kelly is involved with the Montgomery County SGA and speaks out in regards to bills she cares about.

“I try my best to be as politically active as possible,” she said. “But sometimes it’s hard because there are a lot of things I care about, and only so many hours in a day.”