Georgia school superintendent advises Gwinnett wait on sex ed decision

Woods asserts the proposed program goes beyond state standards

Dozens of parents, students, teachers and advocates in Gwinnett County have weighed in on a potential change to the sex education curriculum in Georgia’s largest school district.

State School Superintendent Richard Woods has joined them, asking district leaders to delay their decision — scheduled for Thursday — on a new health curriculum.

Woods, a Republican, stopped short of recommending the school board adopt either the longstanding Choosing the Best that’s used in Gwinnett and about 450 other Georgia schools or the proposed comprehensive sex ed program HealthSmart.

“I respectfully request that the board delay adoption to give the district time to ensure compliance in the proposed curriculum with state law, standards, and board rule,” Woods wrote in a letter sent to Gwinnett Superintendent Calvin Watts and the district school board on Tuesday.

Ultimately, Woods doesn’t have a say in the matter. The decision lies with the school board.

The text of the letter circulated on social media after it was sent. The state Department of Education provided a copy of the letter Wednesday to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Credit: Stephen B. Morton / AJC

Credit: Stephen B. Morton / AJC

Woods said his office began looking into the proposed curriculum change in Gwinnett after hearing from residents and seeing the district assert that HealthSmart was more aligned to state health standards.

He said the opposite: Choosing the Best “presents itself to be better aligned” with the state-required emphasis on abstinence.

Woods didn’t say HealthSmart would not comply with health and sex education standards, but he said it goes beyond state standards. He noted HealthSmart includes elementary school resources beyond the state-required lessons about sexual abuse and assault awareness.

“The proposed curriculum seems to go above this requirement, and it appears local public feedback does not support expansion into this grade band,” Woods said.

ExploreProposed sex education change in Gwinnett County draws backlash

Choosing the Best has been criticized for having a limited scope focused only on negative outcomes. Supporters of comprehensive sex education point to studies that show more than half of high school students nationwide report being sexually active. They say comprehensive programs still promote abstinence but offer information that students can use to help make safer decisions. Their opponents argue that contradicts messages about abstinence.

A panel of Gwinnett health teachers recommended adoption of HealthSmart, which was used in pilot programs and eventually received the endorsement of an advisory council and administrators before coming to the school board.

The most vocal group regarding the proposed sex education change in Gwinnett has been parents against the change. Along with speaking at board meetings, they point to a district survey in which responses were strongly against a change.

ExploreMore stories about Gwinnett County Public Schools

“(It) is essential that state standards and guidelines are adhered to and that public institutions are responsive to public feedback and input they receive,” Woods said. “Overwhelming local input supports my call to pause and re-evaluate adoption. Simply stating ‘parents can always opt out’ needlessly puts Gwinnett families and parents in a zero-sum situation.”

Board member Mary Kay Murphy and Vice Chair Steve Knudsen have previously questioned moving away from Choosing the Best and said they would like to delay a decision to allow for more research and community feedback.