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Massage Today
October, 2003, Vol. 03, Issue 10

FLAME Carries the Torch for Florida Massage Education

By Michael McGillicuddy, LMT, NCTMB

For some time, the Florida Board of Massage Therapy (FBMT) has been re-examining the current minimum educational requirements to become a licensed massage therapist in Florida. Many appointees on the board have expressed an interest in increasing the number of required educational hours for massage therapy schools; however, for the FBMT to enact an increase, a change in the Administrative Code or "rules" is necessary, and specific protocol must be followed, including publicly announcing "rulemaking" workshops, so hearings on the issue can be held around the state.

In our case, a board member facilitated the workshops and invited other board members to share their views, and listen to the views of interested parties. The Florida State Massage Therapy Association (FSMTA) expressed its belief that increasing school hours was one way to improve the profession. The Florida Chapter of the American Massage Therapy Association also supported an increase in the number of educational hours, as did some massage schools and practicing massage therapists.

At one of these workshops, the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) presented its position on the issue. Currently, Florida public massage schools are required to teach 750-hour massage therapy programs. The FDOE has changed the number of school hours several times within the past few years from 850 hours to 500 hours to 750 hours. When asked why the hours had gone from 500 to 750 hours, the FDOE said it was because public school teachers "could not teach a massage therapy program in 500 hours."

Following the FDOE's presentation, the board instantly decided to increase the number of educational hours to 700 for board-approved schools. Unhappy with the way in which the decision was reached, the Florida Association of Massage Education (FLAME), a group of approximately 16 massage schools, challenged the entire rulemaking process. The FLAME group felt that:

  • The increase in minimum massage school hours from 500 to 700 had not been justified;
  • The students graduating from FLAME schools had a high passing rate on the national exam, required by the FBMT to receive a Florida massage therapy license;
  • The majority of states only require a minimum of 500 hours of education;
  • The purpose of the FBMT is to protect the public. The FDOE could not show that massage therapists graduating from a 500-hour program were a danger to the public;
  • Many other subjects that have an impact on the quality of massage education (other than the number of educational hours) were not addressed at the workshop and hearings.

Fortunately, FLAME's intervention resulted in a settlement agreement between FLAME and the FBMT with the following details:

  1. In exchange for the board's agreement to withdraw the proposed rule, FLAME will voluntarily dismiss its challenge. Each party agrees to bear its own costs and legal fees in this matter.
  2. The board will publish the withdrawal of the proposed rule in the Florida Administrative Weekly.
  3. The board will appoint a Massage Therapy Competencies Task Force, made up of interested persons representing all board-approved massage therapy schools; licensed massage therapists; associations; accrediting agencies; testing groups; and other professionals involved in the education and practice of massage therapy in Florida. The board will notify licensed massage therapists of the established task force and opportunities for appointment by sending announcements to all board-approved massage therapy schools, and by posting an announcement on the FDOE's Web site.
  4. Over a nine-month period from the date of the appointment, the task force will meet at different locations around the state to assess the work of massage therapists and examine: the required competencies for the safe practice of massage therapy; the development of curriculum to teach those competencies; whether additional hours of training are necessary over 500 hours; and recommendations for changes to rules and statutes governing the massage therapy profession. To the extent available, input must include studies, task analyses and other available information from reputable organizations (NCBTMB; NCE; COMTA; ABMP; etc.). The task force shall not recommend an increase in the hours of training unless it is determined the required competency cannot be taught in an existing 500-hour massage therapy program.
  5. The task force shall announce its meetings in the Florida Administrative Weekly; the board agrees to maintain a list of interested persons that will receive notices of task force meetings and agendas related to board-approved massage school curriculum.
  6. Within 18 months following the published notice of withdrawal of the proposed rule (unless required by action of Florida statutes), the board will not vote to amend the hours or content of training and curriculum for board-approved massage schools in a manner that does not conform to the recommendations set forth by the task force. Additionally, the board will consider the recommendations of the task force in making any changes to the minimum standards of training and curriculum for board-approved massage schools.
  7. The task force shall have a board-appointed chairperson. The chairperson can be a board member or massage educator who is willing to accept the responsibility as a volunteer. Upon recommendation by the chair, for the purpose of assisting the task force in completing its work, the board may authorize a three-month extension to the nine-month task force period. The task force meetings will be coordinated through and assisted by board office staff. All reports and formalized conclusions reached by the task force, or sections thereof, shall be provided to the board staff, and will be part of the board's official records.
  8. This agreement shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of the state of Florida.
  9. This agreement merges, supersedes and incorporates all agreements and understandings between the parties hereto with respect to the subject matter hereof.
  10. This agreement shall be effectuated by the execution of an original version hereof. A fully executed copy will be forwarded to the parties.

All of the schools involved in FLAME share a real love for the massage therapy profession. They felt that if changes were going to be made to improve massage therapy education, the changes should be made based on good research and well-thought-out plans. This settlement agreement represents a desire on behalf of both parties to cooperate and do the best job possible of improving massage education in Florida.

Click here for previous articles by Michael McGillicuddy, LMT, NCTMB.


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