Sex-ed input sought|Program evaluationsslated to begin in May

Published 6:50 am Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Staff Writer

Beaufort County Schools officials said they will begin evaluating programs in May in preparation for state-mandated changes in the way students are taught sex education.
Monday night, they encouraged parents and other community members to participate in any decisions that they make regarding the sex-education curriculum.
“We want to be as open as possible,” Patrick Abele, the school system’s executive director for learning services, told the Beaufort County Board of Education during a presentation on changes mandated by the North Carolina General Assembly. “We are issuing an open invitation at this time for anyone who wants to become involved.
BCS Superintendent Don Phipps said he especially would like the involvement of the local ministerial association in any decisions the schools make on its sex-education curriculum.
Titled the Healthy Youth Act of 2009, the law expands age-appropriate sex education offered to students beginning in the seventh grade to include information on sexually transmitted diseases, effectiveness and safety of all FDA-approved contraceptive devices and awareness of sexual assault, sexual abuse and risk reduction.
It mandates these changes to be implemented by public school systems statewide at the beginning of the 2010-2011 school year.
The new law continues to give parents and guardians the right to “opt out” of instruction for their children in all or in specific topics discussed in sex-education classes, and it gives them the right to review all the materials and objectives that will be used in such classes.
The new law mandates that materials used in the classes “be age appropriate for use with students” and that “(i)nformation conveyed during the instruction shall be objective and based upon scientific research that is peer reviewed and accepted by professionals and credentialed experts in the field of sexual health education.”
BCS’ Health Advisory Committee is scheduled to meet today, and a subcommittee appointed from its membership and interested community members will be tasked with evaluating sex-education programs that meet state requirements and choose one that is appropriate to use in the school system, Abele said.
The selected materials should be available for review by the public in August to give parents time to decide whether they want their children to participate in or “opt out” of instruction, he said.
BCS offers a reproductive-health-and-safety-education curriculum that teaches that abstinence from sexual activity outside of marriage is the expected standard for all school-age children.
In other business, the board:
• Discussed, but took no action on, proposed changes to the school system’s drug-testing policy. The board’s discussion focused on changes made by lawyers for the school board in response to questions raised during the first reading of the policy in November. 
The new policy contains two components — testing requested when school officials have reasonable cause to believe a student is under the influence of drugs or alcohol and testing as required for student athletes.
It clarifies that a student who refuses to take an alcohol or drug test will not be disciplined for refusal to take the test but may be disciplined by his or her principal based on information obtained in an investigation of the student’s behavior.
It also clarifies penalties to students who tamper with testing samples, and it outlines the number of students who are to be tested as well as a schedule for testing.
The new policy adds alcohol to the list of substances for which the schools can test.
• Approved a lease agreement with the City of Washington for the use of the softball fields at John Cotten Tayloe Elementary School for practice for the women’s and girls’ summer-league softball teams.
• Approved a request to sell the school system’s surplus items through the Web site and accept payment for its surplus items sold on the site through Pay Pal. This action will eliminate problems with payment for and pick-up of the items sold to independent buyers. “It’s safer for us as a school system,” BCS Finance Officer Laurie Modlin told a school-board committee.
• Approved applications for grants from funding sources as follows: a 21st Century Community Learning Center grant for S.W. Snowden Elementary School; an EZ School Library Collection Development grant for Washington High, John Cotten Tayloe Elementary and Chocowinity Primary schools; an Horizon Program grant, and a North Carolina Arts Council grant for the Ed Tech Center. A Lowe’s Foundation grant for a carpentry and masonry program for the Ed Tech Center was not funded, according to the report.
• Approved a recommendation for Dixon Hughes, PLLC to continue to perform the annual audit for BCS for fiscal year 2009-2010.
• Approved a proposal to allow Care-O-Word to administer the summer feeding program at Eastern Elementary School.
Board member E.C. Peed was absent from the meeting. All other members attended.