A new sex education curriculum for sixth through ninth grades was slated to be implemented in the Bulloch County Schools beginning in the semester now in session. But not all outlined topics, if any, will be taught this school year.
As reported in June, lessons on gender identity and sexual orientation were not scheduled to be introduced in ninth grade until 2020–21 or in the seventh and eighth grades until 2021–22.
But that part of the plan is subject to further review with input from the community, and the more basic sex education curriculum slated for 2019–20 will not be taught until second semester and could be delayed until next school year, Superintendent Charles Wilson said last week and this.
"What is being implemented, at this point, is yet to be determined," Wilson said as students returned to school Aug. 1. "The state puts this very much back to the local community. We have a board policy. Now, we have to develop our own curriculum around this."
At each grade level, the sexuality education program would consist of a two-week, 10-lesson unit to be taught during health and physical education courses.
With input from professionals at Georgia Southern University — specifically from the university's Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health — and some input from community, school system staff created what Wilson last week called "a basic outline" for the curriculum. A committee had been formed in 2016 to select topics and teaching materials based on national and state health education standards.
Plan slowed down
What Debbie Sarratt, now the school system's curriculum director for health, physical education, fine arts and sexuality education, presented to the Board of Education in June were three curriculum charts showing daily lesson topics at each grade level. One was for 2019–20 and was slated to be taught beginning near the end of this semester.
The other plans, introducing additional topics at certain grade levels, were for 2020–21 and 2021–22.
This outline has been posted on the school system's website since June 17 as the sex education unit to be introduced "beginning in 2019." Sarratt had also given the board a timeline for implementation, with a training day for teachers July 29 and further training in September and October.
"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," Wilson said Monday. "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."
He and the board need to make sure teachers are well prepared and want to be careful in regard to the community's concerns, he said.
Under the announced plan, "sexual orientation and gender identity" and "undoing gender stereotypes" were scheduled to be introduced as two one-day topics for the ninth grade unit in 2020–21, not this school year. Beginning in 2021–22, "sexual orientation and gender identity" was slated as a one-day topic for eighth grade, and "talking about sexuality," as the first-day topic in the seventh grade unit.
These would not become sixth-grade topics even under the original plan.
But this school year's announced seventh-grade unit, for example, would have included lessons on "Talking about Sexuality," the female and male reproductive systems, the menstrual cycle and pregnancy, "Being Smart-Staying Safe Online," teen pregnancy, resisting sexual pressure, "Making Smart Choices," "STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) and Responsible Actions" and "Healthy Romantic Relationships."
Birth control methods would be included in lessons for eighth and ninth grades, as would sexual violence and sexual harassment prevention. "Saying No" is a seventh-grade lesson. "Abstinence: What's in it for me?" is a ninth-grade lesson.
Policy vs. curriculum
The only related vote the Bulloch County Board of Education has taken was one in November adopting an updated sex education policy, a general guideline that emphasizes abstinence and requires instruction in sexual abuse and assault prevention but does not prescribe teaching materials or lesson plans. Administrators generally plan for curriculum, meaning specific course content, without the board having to vote.
But sex education curriculum is different from other subjects, and in this case, both the board and the community need to have more input on what is being taught, Wilson said last week.
"State regulations push it back to the local Board of Education," he said. "Our Board of Education policy specifically speaks to community values, and I'm asking for input from our board, as well as other input from this community."
Maybe not 2019–20
In a phone call Monday, Wilson clarified that the proposed, countywide 2019–20 sex education curriculum will be taught second semester at the earliest and may be postponed. Second semester begins in January.
"Our goal is, if we could get this done halfway through the (school) year and then be able to implement it second semester, we would like to, but we just don't know if that's going to happen," he said.
Whenever the curriculum is implemented, the school system has opt-out forms available for parents, as required under the board's policy. A summary on the school system's website stated that parents will receive a letter two weeks before the unit is taught. Wilson said he wants parents to get at least that much advanced notice, and longer if possible.
Parents will be given an opportunity to visit their children's schools and review the course materials, school system officials have promised.
Until the new curriculum is implemented, teachers will continue teaching some things about sexuality and reproductive health in existing classes, but what is taught varies among the schools, Wilson acknowledged.
"Right now what is in place is what we have done for years," he said. "It's just bits and pieces, pretty much; not everybody is teaching the same thing. That is what we are trying to move past."
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.