New Massachusetts Law Promotes Civic Education for Students

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Governor Charlie Baker recently signed into law S2631, An Act to promote and enhance civic engagement (S2631) to enable students in Massachusetts to gain a new appreciation and understanding of history and civics.

Joining Governor Baker at the signing were Lt. Governor Karyn Polito, Education Secretary James Peyser, Senate President Emerita Harriette Chandler, JFK Library Executive Director Steven M. Rothstein, EMK Institute President Mary Grant, Media Literacy Now President Erin McNeill, Generation Citizen Massachusetts Executive Director Arielle Jennings as well as representatives from UTEC Lowell & Teens Leading the Way, local students and members of the Legislature.

This new law will make it a requirement for Massachusetts public high schools and school districts serving eighth-grade students to provide at least one student-led, non-partisan civics project for each student. These projects can be individual, small group, or class wide and they must be designed to promote student abilities related to the analysis of complex issues; consideration of different perspectives; logical reasoning with supportive evidence; engagement in civil discourse, and understanding of the connections between federal, state, and local policies, including those that may impact the student’s school or community. Under the new law, a student who chooses not to participate in a particular group or class-wide project must be offered the opportunity to develop an individual civics project, with approval by the principal.

This bill also creates a Civics Project Trust Fund, which will be used to assist Massachusetts communities with implementing history and civics education state requirements, particularly in underserved communities. In addition, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), in consultation with the Secretary of State, will work to form a non-partisan high school voter challenge program to raise awareness for eligible students to register or pre-register to vote.

This bill complements recent actions taken by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. In June, the Board voted to approve a revision of the History and Social Sciences curriculum framework, which will improve the impact of civics education across multiple grade levels and subject areas.

Education Secretary James Peyser said, “Civics education is about both learning and doing, and effective civic engagement is not simply about advocacy or action, it’s about listening, questioning, respectful dialogue, and compromise. In the end, civics should help our young people develop a love of our Commonwealth and our country and the democratic values they embody.”