The Bulloch County Board of Education has approved a revised sex education curriculum, to be taught as a 10-day unit for sixth through ninth grades, beginning this spring.
After receiving details on the revised curriculum and asking questions in January, the board adopted it 7-0 Thursday evening with no further discussion. A committee of parents and other community members from throughout the county, health and physical education teachers, a school nurse, a counselor and three high school seniors drew up the new plan after a previous version was put on hold last August.
The schedule of daily lesson titles for each grade shows an emphasis on students learning about healthy relationships and being protected from sexual violence, teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and HIV.
A letter that will be going home to parents notes the school system’s commitment “to an abstinence-based curriculum.” “Birth control methods” is a one-day topic for the eighth and ninth grades only. But “Choosing Abstinence” is a sixth-grade topic, and “Abstinence: What’s in it for me?” remains a ninth-grade topic.
Values & decisions
“The whole thing is about making good decisions based on your personal values, and then we leave it at that, and then there are talking points for parents to talk about what their family’s values are, and that’s in the parent resource packet,” Assistant Superintendent for School Improvement Teresa Phillips said after Thursday’s meeting.
For example, the lesson topic for both Day 5 of the sixth-grade unit and Day 1 of the seventh-grade unit is “Values and Decision Making,” she noted. Teachers will guide students through a decision-making model.
“It’s all about keeping yourself safe and healthy, and then we talk about various ways you do that,” she said.
In health & PE
With the exception of two days in sixth grade, the classes will be taught by regular teachers in the schools, mostly health and physical education teachers and probably some science teachers, Phillips said.
Boys and girls will be taught in separate classes, boys with male teachers and girls with female teachers, she said. So science teachers will be called on when a school does not have health and P.E. teachers of both genders.
Safe Haven is slated to provide instructors for the two “Healthy vs. Unhealthy Relationships” classes that constitute Day 9 and Day 10 of the sixth-grade unit. Safe Haven is an area nonprofit program that operates a shelter for victims of domestic violence and works to prevent it.
Letter & opt-out
The school system plans to send a letter about the sex education curriculum to parents of sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth-grade students at least two weeks before the unit begins. It will be taught in April, or probably as late as May at some middle and high schools, Phillips said.
Teachers are slated to receive training in March for teaching the new curriculum.
An opt-out form will be sent with the letter. The form includes the statement: “I wish for my child … to be excused from the sexuality education unit. I understand that he/she will receive related independent assignments from the health book and will be sent to a separate supervised area to complete that work.”
Parents can review
The form will identify a link to a sex education “Parent Tool Kit” on the school system website, www.bullochschools.org. As of Monday, the link and planned materials had not been posted, but the “tool kit” should appear there in March, Phillips said.
Parents will be invited to review all sex education materials by making an appointment at their child’s school or with school improvement director Debbie Sarratt or Phillips at the Board of Education office.
Staff members have discussed scheduling walk-in hours for parents to review materials at the central office. But whether this will be done depends on how many parents indicate an interest, Phillips said.
“We want to give them plenty of opportunities to look at it to decide if they want to opt their child out or are comfortable with the material that’s presented,” she said.
Besides sending the letter and form home with students, the schools will do an automated phone call-out notifying parents.
Those steps are required of the schools, Phillips said, and the committee has suggested that principals also use other means of communication, such as schools’ websites, social media or email, to reach parents.
Not in this one
As reported in January, this version of the curriculum does not include “sexual orientation and gender identity” and “undoing gender stereotypes” as lesson topics at any grade level.
Earlier a “sexuality education” curriculum had been drawn up by a committee mostly of school system employees who conferred with the Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health at Georgia Southern University and consulted national health education standards.
The original plan would have introduced sexual orientation and gender identity as topics for the ninth grade next school year and in the seventh and eighth grades in 2021-22.
But as the current school year began in August, Superintendent Charles Wilson announced that this plan was being put on hold for revision with more community input.
One of the health and physical education teachers who served on the committee was Tendai Haggins of Portal Middle High School. Interviewed at the Jan 23 school board work session, he recalled that around 20 years ago health classes for middle grades included “sexually transmitted diseases and the basics about abuse and violence.”
In recent years, health classes have “touched on abstinence mostly, but as far as doing the whole nine yards, we have not, so this is going to be new for all of us,” Haggins said.
He said he believes the new curriculum touches on everything it should and beyond that will teach children “to get the correct information and find places to get help when they need help.”
“We’ve got great teachers in Bulloch County, and so I look forward to students getting great, factual information and not looking at what the TV says and social media and all that stuff,” Haggins said.