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What do public schools in Georgia teach in sex education? It depends on the school system.

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What Georgia public school students are taught about sex, bodies, and community values ​​depends entirely on the school district they attend.

This article also appeared in The Macon Newsroom, a project of the Center for Collaborative Journalism.

Georgia’s sex education regulations, which are part of the state school board’s overall health and physical education policy, require schools to teach AIDS prevention and abstinence, but who, when, and how. Many other details, such as whether to teach it, are left to your discretion. in each of the state’s 181 school districts.

When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that abortion was a state rather than a federal right, a group in Georgia that offers a comprehensive sex education curriculum said its efforts would “make abortion unnecessary.” However, the issue is deeply intertwined with contraception and quality sex education.” ”

GCAPP, the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Power and Potential, supports nearly 20 schools, including Bibb School, to conduct medically-accurate comprehensive sex education classes.

Keri Hill, senior director of school-based initiatives at GCAPP, said: “Not all of them have received evaluations to support their effectiveness, and not all of them provide medically accurate information. will do.”

Minimal Requirement Implies Broad Interpretation

State minimum requirements for sex education leave plenty of room for interpretation by local school boards, resulting in a litter of inconsistent instruction. The Georgia Department of Education also doesn’t track which curriculum each school district is implementing.

“Unfortunately, there are school districts implementing curriculum options that are not medically accurate because that is not a requirement,” Hill said. “Yes, the information delivered should emphasize abstinence as a primary goal, and all curriculum options we offer emphasize abstinence.

Based on school board documents and policies available online, it is difficult, if not impossible, to determine what sex education is offered in a particular school system. However, parents have the right to review the materials and can opt their child out of class.

High school students in Bibb, Twigs, Crawford, Hancock and Wilkinson counties study a curriculum called FLASH, which stands for Family Learning and Sexual Health. FLASH is provided through her contract with GCAPP, which provides free training and materials to school districts.

The Bibb and Twiggs school was one of the first schools in the country to pilot the program in 2017. It was designed by the Seattle Department of Public Health and includes lessons on anatomy, puberty, pregnancy, birth control, sexually transmitted diseases, and abstinence.

Prior to introducing the FLASH curriculum, Bibb Schools hadn’t updated its sex education curriculum since the early ’90s, according to The Telegraph’s archives. The Georgia Department of Education began mandating abstinence education in public schools in 1994.

Some school districts, such as schools in Monroe County, continue to teach the same sex education curriculum that has been taught for decades.

Mary Parsons, the only high school in the county, teaches freshmen “Choose the Best,” a curriculum created by a Georgia publisher in 1993. Schools in Houston and Jones counties also teach this curriculum.

Monroe County School Superintendent Mike Hickman said school districts adopted “pick the best” in the late 90s or early 2000s.

Graphic visuals of STDs, condom and contraceptive failure rates, as well as the importance of marriage and pre-sex marriage are among the information included in the lessons.

“The Georgia Standard of Excellence actually includes abstinence as one of the standards taught,” Hickman said. “And honestly, choosing the best follows that basic sentiment.

Instruction used to be done by teachers, but that changed a few years ago when districts began allowing volunteers from the local emergency pregnancy center to come and teach in the classrooms.

According to 13WMAZ, in 2016, a group of fresh graduates from Mary Parsons High School publicly advocated for school districts to stop “picking the best” and adopt a comprehensive curriculum like FLASH. One student told a TV station that the main problem ex-students had with “choosing the best” was “closeness to gender stereotypes and what we think is not accurate or factually based.” It was a broken heart.

The district regularly reviews the curriculum with representatives from Choosing the Best publishers and the director of the Monroe County Pregnancy Center, Hickman said. About three years ago, the district determined that choosing the best met the state’s standards and didn’t need to change.

Still, Hickman said the district has had to make some changes in recent years.

“The only problem I’ve had with Choice the Best so far is when people don’t follow the curriculum,” Hickman says. “And usually that’s what we’ve been trying to do, to do better vocational training. It really alleviates the problems we had in the past.”

Allison Macklin, director of policy and advocacy for the US nonprofit SIECUS, says the crisis pregnancy center uses fear-mongering techniques, such as teaching students to imagine their gender and their bodies like tape. and known for using shame-based tactics. Adhesive strength decreases with each use.

“This is really an attempt to impose a certain moral perspective on all young people,” Macklin said. “There is not a lot of policy.

SIECUS advocates for comprehensive sex education and was founded in 1964 by the medical director of the National Planned Parenthood Federation.

“What we know from 30 years of research is that people who attend public schools and receive comprehensive sex education grow up to have healthier sex lives,” Macklin said. I’m here. “As a result, we are seeing less incidence of sexual assault and sexual violence, healthier relationships, more inclusion and values, and more positive mental health outcomes, especially for LGBTQ+ people. So the long-term impact will be huge and much bigger.”

State Board of Education policy states that all sex education curricula “should emphasize abstinence from sexual activity until marriage and fidelity in marriage as important personal goals.”

Macklin said mandating it was problematic because marriage “isn’t compulsory for anyone,[and]until a few years ago it wasn’t allowed for anyone”.

“Putting things like marriage into faith-based practices and even sacraments of faith is really starting to cross the line when it comes to conflating religious practices with secular institutions,” Macklin said. . He said. “I think the goal is a little more short-sighted, especially when you look at how parts of this curriculum are used in Georgia.”

Teen Pregnancy Continues to Decline

Pregnancy among 10- to 19-year-olds has been steadily declining nationwide since 1991, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Georgia, teenage pregnancies have dropped 72% since 2000, Monroe County has dropped 70%, and Bibb County has dropped 56%. On the other hand, the number of abortions has remained relatively unchanged.

Christian Hand, a health educator for the Georgia Department of Health’s North Central Health District, said he believes the expansion of quality sex education is part of the decline in teenage pregnancies.

Other potential drivers of decline are increased access to contraception and the emergence of smartphones with new capabilities that allow online access to information from anywhere.

Graduating from Bibb Schools in 2010, Hand remembers growing up in a pre-smartphone era. “It’s like asking her parents or asking her friends and they may not have the best information,” she said of her response to her question about sex and puberty. I was.

This article is made available with permission of The Macon Newsroom, a project of the Joint Center for Journalism at Mercer University.