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Change in sex ed curriculum spurs questions

It can be uncomfortable for adults to talk to children about sex and that discomfort is even more when teachers are asked to teach sex education in the classroom.
A recent change to the sex education curriculum taught in Grady County schools in grades fourth through 12th has caused a firestorm of criticism on social media and in the form of phone calls from concerned citizens to local school officials.
“I wish we didn’t have to teach sex ed in our schools. There are a lot of other things we should focus on, but the reality is many of our students are not learning about sex from their parents or other reliable sources. They are learning about it from the Internet, television and movies,” Grady County School Superintendent Dr. Kermit Gilliard says.
Over the last several weeks, the discussion on social media and in the community has escalated and, according to Dr. Gilliard, much of what is being stated is patently untrue.
The superintendent says the school system adopted the Family Life And Sexual Health (FLASH) sex ed curriculum in the summer after the county’s school principals selected it as their preferred sex ed curriculum.
“What is so good about FLASH is the teacher flexibility that is built into the curriculum. The topics taught are age appropriate, but if teachers are not comfortable with some items in the curriculum, they do not have to teach it. There is a lot of flexibility there,” Dr. Gilliard said.
FLASH focuses on abstinence, according to Dr. Gilliard.
“Abstinence is the only way to completely prevent pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. That’s what we want to teach our children. However, the reality is that there are students who are engaging in sexual activity and we want to educate them on how they can maintain abstinence and also provide them with the proper education on how to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases,” Dr. Gilliard said.
FLASH was selected by local principals after reviewing several other sex ed curriculums. It was developed in King County, Washington.
Local officials met with representatives of the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Power and Potential to select a sex education curriculum. Grady County District 3 Board of Education member Laura Register serves on the board of GCAPP.
One of the flashpoints for local critics of FLASH has been an alleged affiliation with Planned Parenthood. Dr. Gilliard says FLASH is not endorsed by and the curriculum materials have not been reviewed by Planned Parenthood.
However, Planned Parenthood does include FLASH on a list of dozens of sex ed curriculums that the organization “suggests as possible resources for sex education.”
Planned Parenthood has been a hot topic in the news as of late and is vehemently opposed by the nation’s conservatives.
“A lot of what we’ve heard and what is being said on social media is that Planned Parenthood is behind FLASH. Our decision to select FLASH had nothing to do with Planned Parenthood whatsoever,” Dr. Gilliard said.
According to Dr. Gilliard, he has fielded numerous calls as has Assistant Superintendent Laura Elliott. “I don’t know if people changed their minds after talking with us, but we’ve tried to provide people with the facts,” he said.
The county school superintendent points to high levels of teenage pregnancy and incidents of sexually transmitted diseases in the county as the need for a strong sex education program in public schools.
With local teenage birth rates averaging between 25 and 30 for girls aged 10 to 17 and above national rates locally of incidents of sexually transmitted diseases, Dr. Gilliard said students need to be informed about making wise decisions when it comes to sex.
“We would hope that children would get this at home but, unfortunately, that does not always happen. If we can help make the lives of these children better, that is what we want to do,” the superintendent said.
FLASH in the fourth grade focuses on family, self esteem, gender roles, friendship and puberty.
In the fifth grade, the curriculum expands to include sexual health/hygiene, the reproductive system, pregnancy, good touch/bad touch issues and sexually transmitted diseases. Those topics are expanded on for sixth graders.
Then in seventh grade, topics include abstinence, decision making and defending rights. Eighth graders are taught basics about birth control and the influence of drugs and alcohol. These topics are only taught based on decisions by the individual school’s administration.
In high school, the focus remains on abstinence, but topics also covered are contraceptive methods with expanded focus on sexually transmitted diseases.
Although only certain topics are taught based on grade level, all teachers teaching the FLASH curriculum have been trained on the full curriculum. According to Dr. Gilliard, including middle and elementary school teachers in the additional training may have created concern with local educators.
FLASH is being taught to students over a seven-to-nine-day period and Shiver has already completed it for this year. The sex ed courses will be taught at the high school this month; at Southside in late January and early February; at Washington in late March/early April; at Eastside in April; and at Northside and Whigham in May.
“We are here to just teach the facts. Questions about morality or other topics are to be redirected by teachers to parents or other adults the child trusts,” Dr. Gilliard said.
Parents with questions or concerns are asked to contact their child’s school principal, but Dr. Gilliard says he would be happy to respond to parent concerns.
The superintendent also invites interested parents or concerned citizens to call and schedule a convenient time to visit their child’s school or the school system central office to inspect the curriculum.
Dr. Gilliard reminds parents and guardians that prior to sex ed classes being taught, permission forms are sent home giving parents the opportunity to have their child opt out of the sessions, which is the long-standing policy of the county schools.

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