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'Gender identity’ not part of revised 2020 sex ed plan
Board could vote Feb. 13 for April launch
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A committee is sending a revised sixth- through ninth-grade sex education curriculum to the Bulloch County Board of Education for board members to submit any questions, potentially hear answers in a Jan. 23 work session and possibly approve the curriculum Feb. 13.

The plan for the current year, which administrators said could be put into use in April, does not include the “sexual orientation and gender identity” and “undoing gender stereotypes” lessons that were part of a plan unveiled last summer for a three-year rollout. Even in that original version, those topics were not for sixth grade and would not have been taught this school year. But they would have been introduced in the ninth grade next school year and in the seventh and eighth grades in 2021-22.

However, the committee that reviewed and revised the curriculum from late October to early December was asked to focus on a single-year plan, said Assistant Superintendent for School Improvement Teresa Phillips. That short-term focus bypassed the question of whether the gender identity topics will be reintroduced in the future.

“Our intent is to teach this version without that included,” Phillips said in a brief interview after Thursday’s school board meeting. “Some of our committee members did ask that question. They felt like that needed to be included, and we said, ‘Let’s worry about this (the 2020 plan) right now. Let’s come to agreement on this.’”

The committee included parents and grandparents, high school seniors, health teachers, a nurse and a counselor. Such a committee in future years will review elements that could be changed or added, Phillips said. Teachers will be asked to provide feedback on what lessons need more time or less and any topics students ask about that the teachers feel should be covered.

“We anticipate this being an annual review, every year, and when those topics come back up, if our committee feels like it needs to go back in, if that would significantly change our curriculum, then we would come back to the board of approval,” Phillips said.


What’s in it?

During Thursday’s meeting, Phillips and Debbie Sarratt, school improvement director for health, physical education and fine arts, gave the board an update that focused on the work of the committee and the proposed timeline for the curriculum’s adoption. The only curriculum-related materials they released were a chart showing the titles of the lessons to be taught over 10 days in each of the four grades and the revised letter to parents that will accompany the opt-out form.

The parent letter includes a summary of the lesson topics, but notes that these vary by grade: female and male reproductive systems, puberty, staying safe online, reproduction and teen pregnancy, HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases, abstinence , “healthy relationships,” decision making, and youth violence prevention topics including “healthy versus unhealthy relationships, “respecting boundaries” and “effective communication.”

In the middle schools, “contraception and pregnancy prevention” will be a topic for eighth-grade only, the letter notes. The unit chart shows the lesson title as “birth control methods.” This is also the title of a ninth-grade lesson, the day after “Abstinence: What’s in it for me?”

At least in name, many of the topics are unchanged from the original 2019-20 plan. The topic of the last day of the ninth-grade unit remains “Building a community free of sexual violence.”


On hold since August

The original timeline had slated training for the physical education and health teachers last July, September and October. But in August at the beginning of the school year, Superintendent of Schools Charles Wilson said the new curriculum and the training it required was being put on hold.

"We have slowed that down because until we get all the feedback we need from the community and from the board, we don't know for sure what that's going to look like," he said Aug. 5. "Right now what we're doing is getting feedback from teachers, we're going to get feedback from the board, and until we have all of that figured out it's hard for us to proceed with a definitive curriculum."

The original 2019 version of the sex education curriculum was developed by school system staff with input from professionals at the Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health at Georgia Southern University, drawing from nationally published standards. The plan was originally announced for implementation without a specific Board of Education vote, since the board had adopted a revised, general sex education policy in November 2018.

But as Wilson later noted, a state law and policies specific to sex education require the county school board to approve the full curriculum. In fact, a Georgia State Board of Education rule states: “Each local board of education shall establish a committee to review periodically sex/AIDS education instructional materials and make recommendations concerning age/grade level use. Recommendations made by the committee shall be approved by the local board of education before implementation.”


Community committee

As Wilson requested last fall, each elected Bulloch County Board of Education member submitted the name of a community resident from his or her district to serve on the committee.

Community members, most of whom are parents, on the committee are Amy Shuman from BOE District 1, Chip Strickland from District 2, Jennifer Stocking from District 3, Chianti Culver from District 4, Patrice Ellison from District 5, Shari Barr, now on Statesboro City Council, from BOE District 6, Rob Kicklighter from District 7 and Lashunda Staten from District 8.

The health teachers named on the committee list obtained from school system officials Friday are Portal Middle High School’s Tendai Haggins and Statesboro High School’s Liz Driggers. The counselor is Portal Middle High’s DeeDee Thompson. The nurse is Becky Holmes.

Students on the committee, all 12th-graders, include one each from Southeast Bulloch High School, Portal High School and Statesboro High School, also identified as a white female, a black female and a Hispanic male.

Phillips and Sarratt were not members but served as facilitators.

The committee met seven times over as many weeks, for about 90 minutes each week.

“Our committee’s purpose was to review – which turned into more of ‘develop’ – the sex ed curriculum for Bulloch County students that reflects our local community values,” Phillips told the board.


Opt-out provision

With the forms to be provided, parents or guardians will be able to opt their children out of the annual two-week unit of sex education. Having an opt-out provision is a state requirement. Under Bulloch County’s approach it is all-or-nothing, exempting students from all 10 days’ lessons.

But parents who wish to keep their children out of the sex education program will need to return a new opt-out form each year, Phillips said.

The whole curriculum, including details of the daily lessons to be taught, will be made available for parents to review, but only after the board has adopted the plan, the school improvement administrators said.

“We’re just not comfortable putting something out there saying, ‘Here’s our curriculum,’ when the board hasn’t approved it yet,” Phillips said.

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