The Board of Education last week adopted a revised sex education policy for the Bulloch County Schools.
With three members absent, the vote Thursday night was 5-0, as were all other votes in what may have been the board’s last meeting of the year.
One of the changes in the policy makes age-appropriate sexual abuse and assault awareness instruction a required part of the program for kindergarten through ninth grade. The policy already contained a provision allowing parents and guardians, by written request, to exempt their children from sex education, but another change allows this to be done through a form the school system provides. A third change leaves intact a board-mandated emphasis on abstinence but simplifies the wording.
“For the most part these changes were made to make sure that our policy is in alignment with state requirements, law and guidelines,” Superintendent of Schools Charles Wilson said Friday. “We really want to make sure our policy reflects what it should, so that’s the gist of it.”
Board members did not comment on the revisions during the Oct. 25 meeting, when the sex education policy changes and proposed changes to another now-revised policy were introduced as “new business.” During Thursday’s meeting the revised policies appeared under “old business,” and Wilson recommended approval.
“I have no problem with the policy and plan to vote for it. …,” District 3 board member Stuart Tedders, Ph.D., told Chairman Mike Sparks before the vote.
“But I sure would like the opportunity, at some point in the near future, for somebody to come and explain to me and the community exactly what this sex education curriculum looks like, how it’s implemented, because quite frankly I don’t know,” Tedders said.
A presentation can be included in one of the board’s future meetings, Wilson said.
As in his previous call for action on school safety measures, Tedders approaches this concern from a public health perspective, he said after the meeting. He is a professor and associate dean in the Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health at Georgia Southern University.
“I’m in the health professions, and I actually feel strongly that the district needs a very robust sex ed. curriculum,” Tedders said. “It needs to be, obviously, age-appropriate, but I feel very strongly that it needs to be a comprehensive and robust curriculum.”
What he was calling for was information for the board and public to understand what is being taught and how. Thursday’s action was on policy, not specific curriculum.
The only completely new passage in the policy states: “Sex education shall also include annual age-appropriate sexual abuse and assault awareness and prevention education in kindergarten through grade 9.”
But this type of instruction is already taking place, through the work of counselors in elementary schools and as part of the health curriculum in middle and high schools, Wilson said Friday in a brief interview. For early grades, it takes the form of “Good Touch, Bad Touch” or similar instruction, he said.
“I think Dr. Tedders’ comments were appropriate,” Wilson said. “You know, he was fine with the changes and just said he’d like to know more about what it is that we’re doing, and that’s good that the board wants to know.”
The opt-out rule, which was revised, applies to any “course of study in sex education.”
The local policy previously acknowledged the right of a child’s parent or guardian to “elect, in writing, that such child not receive such course of study.” In the newly adopted version, that last clause has been replaced with one letting a parent or guardian “exercise the option of excluding his/her child from sex education and AIDS prevention awareness instructional programs through the use of an ‘opt out’ form.”
So the school system has forms available instead of expecting these parents to write a letter, Wilson acknowledged.
“We’re trying to make it easier on folks, that’s right, giving them a chance to opt out if they want to,” he said.
Authorizing a program of “sex education/AIDS education,” the policy’s unchanged introductory paragraph refers to abstinence as “the only sure method of preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.” The same paragraph still concludes, “This instruction shall emphasize abstinence from sexual activity until marriage and fidelity in marriage as important personal goals.”
But at the end of the one-page policy, the final sentence was changed, which previously stated that the board would not permit use of any instructional materials “that emphasize anything other than abstinence from sexual activity until marriage and fidelity in marriage as important goals.”
The references to marriage in this passage have been removed. Now the concluding sentence states: “The Bulloch County Board of Education shall not permit instructional materials to be used, print or nonprint, that emphasize anything other than abstinence-based curriculum.”
This was, again, part of cleaning up the policy to ensure compliance with state requirements, Wilson said.
The other policy revision approved Thursday replaces the board’s previously adopted policy on student appeals of disciplinary actions. References to a three-member tribunal have been replaced by references to a trained hearing officer, with the Board of Education receiving any appeals.
In fact, the school system has used hearing officers for nearly a decade. But in 2015-16 when an overall update of the local board’s policies was attempted, the wrong version of the student appeals policy was somehow submitted to the Georgia School Boards Association for inclusion in the manual, Wilson said Friday. So this change corrects the mistake to make the official policy reflect actual practice.
Thursday’s meeting may have been District 4 member Steve Hein’s last, as he did not seek re-election last spring and is retiring from the board after eight years. District 4 member-elect April Newkirk, who won a two-candidate nonpartisan election in May, completed the GSBA’s two-day new board member orientation training last month. She is slated to be sworn-in, along with re-elected members, Jan. 10 during the board’s 2019 organizational meeting.
A 2018 meeting remains on the calendar for Dec. 13. But after Wilson said that any business would likely be light and noted that several school-based holiday events are planned for that evening, members said they would prefer to cancel the meeting unless something else comes up.
Members Glennera Martin, Jimmy Cook Jr. and Maurice Hill were absent Thursday. But the eight-member board had a quorum with five members present.