Loading...
 

Fulton schools' abstinence-is-best sex ed curriculum met with pushback from advocates

Call on board to help students 'take responsibility of their own bodies and health by providing them with comprehensive sex education'

Fulton County Schools' board is considering updates — think statistics and graphics — to the system's “abstinence-centered” sex education curriculum that's taught to middle and high schoolers.  
?
? The education program, Choosing the Best, details the benefits of a healthy, sex-free relationship. High school students will be informed of the “myths” and problems of premarital sex and cohabitation before tying the knot, according to the program's website.
?
? The board's health education advisory committee in February unanimously recommended the update, which would cost roughly $85,000, be approved at an upcoming meeting in October. The board was set to discuss the issue at tonight's meeting.  
?
? But advocates are raising concerns about the 96,000-student school system's decision to continue to use the teaching materials. They say Choosing the Best’s wait-until-marriage approach is not based on the best evidence and creates an unhealthy environment for teens who are already engaged in sexual activity.
?
? “Proponents of abstinence-centered curriculums claim it’s sex education with a ‘risk avoidance’ approach. But in fact, this is a very risky approach,” says Staci Fox, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast. “It censors accurate information that young people need in order to make informed choices.” Fox says the approach "hasn’t been through the rigors of scientific research to study its effectiveness." 
?
? ??? Atlanta-based Choosing the Best says on its website FAQ it “meets the traditional criteria of ‘evidence-based’ programs.” It also points to a 2012 peer-reviewed study finding the program delays sexual activity. Heavy-hitters such as former Gov. Sonny Perdue, former Congressman Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., and William Roper, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director under President George H.W. Bush, have praised the company and its CEO, Bruce Cook.  
?
? The company, which has faced criticism from advocates and some parents, does acknowledge it is not “currently on the list of evidence-based programs established by the Office of Adolescence Health, as part of President Obama’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative.” Cook is a former board chair of the National Abstinence Education Association and was appointed during Perdue's administration to serve on a few state boards, including the Georgia Department of Human Resources
?
? We reached out to Choosing the Best by phone and email for more information about its curriculum but a spokesperson was not available until Monday.
?
? Opposing advocates, which include Georgia Equality, Georgia WAND, and the Feminist Women’s Health Center, think the school system should opt for a comprehensive sexual education curriculum that is based on evidence and would engage all students. 
?
? Fox points to the DeKalb County School District, which more than a decade ago opted not to use Choosing the Best after parents protested, as developing a more comprehensive model. We’ve asked the DeKalb County School System for more information. Fulton's sex ed curriculum should be try to reach all students, Fox says, including those who have chosen to participate in "healthy and consensual activity." LGBT teens should also be engaged, says one of the state's most vocal LGBT advocacy organizations.
?
? “Recent studies show that 12 percent of young black gay men in Fulton County become infected with HIV each year, giving this community one of the highest HIV infection rates anywhere in the world,” says Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality. “Clearly Fulton County School System's current sex education curriculum is failing this community.”
?
? Advocates also take issue that the school officials aren’t posting the curriculum online, choosing instead to display the materials at 13 sites throughout the county. You can find those locations at the end of the post.
?
? Susan Hale, a spokesperson for FCS, says that the relevant materials have been “vetted by a Fulton committee of parents, teachers, high school students, principals and health education experts from the community so there would be multiple viewpoints represented.” The materials have been on display since Aug. 21 throughout the district to gather public input. As to why the schools did not post materials online, Hale says it is because of potential legal issues, specifically copyright, and also to not make material available that might be unsuitable for young people.
?
? She says the state says public school systems’ sex ed programs, including Fulton’s, are required to follow an abstinence-based approach. (The state Department of Education says systems “shall emphasize abstinence from sexual activity until marriage and fidelity in marriage as important personal goals.”) She also stresses that “abstinence-based” is not the same as “abstinence-only.”
?
? “An abstinence-based approach still discusses contraception methods but reinforces that abstinence is the best way to prevent pregnancy or STDs,” Hale says.
?
? While the curriculum might discuss contraceptives, it does not teach students how to actually use them. In a Sept. 11 AJC article about the proposed update, Tasha Guadalupe, the school system’s health and physical education coordinator, said contraception is “simply mentioned, basically for what’s out there. But it’s still that abstinence-centered approach.”   
?
? Parents have until Sept. 21 to provide input on Fulton's sexual education plan. The school’s board could vote on the issue in October.
?
? North Locations
? Administrative Center (6201 Powers Ferry Rd, NW, Atlanta, GA 30339)
? Crabapple Crossing ES (12775 Birmingham Highway, Milton 30004)
? Northridge Learning Center (450 Northridge Parkway, Sandy Springs, GA 30350)
? Creekview ES (3995 Webb Bridge Road, Alpharetta 30005)
? Hillside ES (9250 Scott Road, Roswell 30076)
? Wilson Creek ES (6115 Wilson Road, Johns Creek 30097)
? Sweet Apple ES (12025 Etris Road, Roswell 30075)
?
? South Locations
? Asa G. Hilliard ES (3353 Mount Olive Road., East Point, GA 30344)
? Feldwood ES (5790 Feldwood Road, College Park, GA 30349)
? Tri-Cities HS (2575 Harris Street, East Point, GA 30344)
? Sandtown MS (5400 Campbellton Road, Atlanta 30331)
? E. C. West ES (7040 Rivertown Road, Fairburn 30213)
? Stonewall Tell ES (3310 Stonewall Tell Road, College Park 30349)