Gwinnett school board delays decision about sex ed curriculum

A proposal to adopt comprehensive sex ed has drawn criticism
Comprehensive sexual and health education textbooks and learning materials are photographed on Wednesday, March 8, 2023, at Gwinnett County Schools Headquarters in Suwanee. The materials are being considered for use in Gwinnett County's sexual education curriculum. (Christina Matacotta for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Comprehensive sexual and health education textbooks and learning materials are photographed on Wednesday, March 8, 2023, at Gwinnett County Schools Headquarters in Suwanee. The materials are being considered for use in Gwinnett County's sexual education curriculum. (Christina Matacotta for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

The Gwinnett County school board decided not to vote on a proposed new health and sex education curriculum that has drawn much attention from the community and even from Georgia’s top school official.

The board unanimously agreed Thursday night to remove from its meeting agenda a vote about buying new HealthSmart textbooks and resources. The board did not set a date for a decision about the health curriculum.

Board member Mary Kay Murphy and Vice Chair Steve Knudsen have previously said they would support delaying this decision. They have also questioned adopting the comprehensive sex ed program HealthSmart rather than Choosing the Best, the program used for more than 20 years in Gwinnett that’s also in more than 450 schools across Georgia.

A panel of district health educators and administrators has endorsed HealthSmart, saying it is inclusive, adheres to Georgia standards and maintains a commitment to promoting abstinence while educating students about other elements of sexual health.

Many parents have criticized the resource over recent months. They argue illustrations in the books contain vulgar material and that lessons about contraceptives contradict lessons about abstinence.

Supporters of Choosing the Best say its program sticks strongly to abstinence, advises of the shortcomings of various contraceptives and has contributed to Gwinnett having lower rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases when compared to the state and other large metro Atlanta counties.

Critics of that program say the information is limited and not inclusive of students of various sexualities and gender identities. They called it unrealistic and failing to provide information that would help the more than half of high schoolers nationwide who report being sexually active.

Earlier this week, State School Superintendent Richard Woods advised the district to wait on a decision. While he did not explicitly endorse one program over another, he did say in a letter to district leaders that Choosing the Best is more aligned with state health standards. While he didn’t say HealthSmart is not aligned with the standards, he said it contains content not endorsed by the state.

The board’s vote happened early in the meeting, meaning only one person addressed the sex education curriculum before the board’s vote.

Marina Peed, executive director of Mosaic Georgia, said students need a full classroom sex education because they risk encountering false or harmful information online. Mosaic Georgia serves survivors of sexual violence, and Peed said the prevalence of this violence makes sex education even more essential.

“Until society does better for our kids, our schools and our community must do all we can to educate them and equip them for their future,” Peed said.

Later in the evening, a couple of people advised the board to stick to Choosing the Best. Alexis Williams, a parent in the district and former school board candidate, asked the board to listen to those in the community who have rallied against comprehensive sex education. She referenced surveys that showed many parents rejected HealthSmart.

At the end of the meeting, board members encouraged people to continue sharing their thoughts about the health and sex education curriculum.

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