Gwinnett County considering changes to sex ed curriculum

The proposal is considered more comprehensive
The Gwinnett County Public Schools headquarters, located in Suwanee. School system leaders are exploring potential changes to the district's sex ed curriculum. (AJC file photo)

The Gwinnett County Public Schools headquarters, located in Suwanee. School system leaders are exploring potential changes to the district's sex ed curriculum. (AJC file photo)

Gwinnett County’s school system is considering a new program for sex education for next school year that will provide more comprehensive lessons about consent, contraceptives and gender and sexual identity.

The current program, Choosing the Best, and the more comprehensive Health Smart program that’s under consideration both have abstinence as a foundation of their curriculum. Student activists, though, say the expanded curriculum is essential for students to learn more about sexuality.

However, parents and groups who have spoken in favor of Choosing the Best believe the new content may encourage sexual behavior and flagged some elements, such as illustrations of body parts, as graphic. Opponents of comprehensive sex education also point to statistics that show lower rates of sexually transmitted diseases, which they attribute to the existing sex education curriculum.

Gwinnett began looking into the new program on the recommendation of its Community Health Education Advisory Committee, district spokeswoman Melissa Laramie said.

Several middle schools are piloting Health Smart, Laramie said. The district will assess programs for elementary, middle and high schools in the spring and may recommend the board adopt them for the school year that starts August 2023.

Board member Mary Kay Murphy asked at a recent school board meeting if parents could opt their children out of the pilot — staff members confirmed that parents are always able to choose for their children not to attend sex education.

The district posted material from several textbooks under consideration throughout October, and people were able to provide thoughts after review. The textbooks covered elementary, middle and high school.

An organization called Protect Student Health Georgia drew attention to elements of Health Smart during the October review period. It notes instances of “graphic drawings of genitalia” and the statement “gender identity can differ from biological sex.”

Neev Seedani, a junior at Duluth High School, said lessons have been limited, focusing only on heterosexual relationships and dangers or risks of sex. He felt information about safety beyond abstinence was nearly nonexistent. He said including lessons about gender identity and sexuality was essential to being inclusive.

“Teaching students about sexuality does not turn people gay,” Seedani said. “It tells them the things they need to know so they can better discover themselves as time goes on.”

Angela Stephan, a Gwinnett senior, said these lessons benefit all students, helping them be more accepting and understanding of their peers.

Seedani and Stephan are members of the Georgia Youth Justice Coalition, a statewide activist group. The group stated, “Comprehensive sex education is vital to improving health outcomes and educating students about their health in a shame-free, inclusive way.”

Brenda Stoll, a retired nurse and parent of former Gwinnett students, helped develop sex education programs in Gwinnett and at the state level. She advocated at a school board meeting for keeping Choosing the Best, citing lower teenage pregnancy rates since the program was adopted. She also said Health Smart contains inadequate information about condoms and sexually transmitted infections.

Gwinnett’s sex ed program has been under the microscope before.

Gwinnett schools faced a push in 2017 to overhaul its sex education program, but Choosing the Best stayed in place.