BCS mulls sex-ed change

Published 6:14 am Sunday, July 25, 2010

Staff Writer

Lesson plans developed by a health-education think tank at Appalachian State University are being scrutinized by Beaufort County Schools leaders for their use in teaching students about sex. 
The plans, developed by the N.C. Comprehensive Health Education Training Center at ASU, are the overwhelming favorite of a task force of educators, health-care providers, parents and community members that was charged with recommending materials for Beaufort County Schools to comply with state-mandated changes that will take effect in the coming school year.
The ASU curriculum was cited as the best of nine different curriculum packages reviewed by the task force in a series of meetings this summer.
At a meeting last week, the task force unanimously recommended its use to the Beaufort County Board of Education.
“It’s pretty clear exactly how things are to be done,” Pam Hodges, principal at Bath Elementary School, said of the lesson plans.
Hodges was one of about 15 people who gave the lesson plans their stamp of approval at the task-force meeting.
Seventh- and eighth-grade students at Bath Elementary School will be taught some of the new subject matter.
“In many subjects, we encourage teachers to use their own creativity, but this is not one of those subjects,” she said. “These lesson plans lend themselves to consistency. A parent can feel comfortable knowing that this material is being delivered consistently in schools all across the county.”
Washington High School health and physical education teacher Dan Riggs agreed, although he said some supplemental materials included in the lesson plans would not be appropriate for use in local schools.
“It’s a good stepping stone for next year and the years beyond,” he said.
The school board began reviewing the lesson plans Friday, and it is expected to consider their approval for use in the classroom at a meeting Monday night.
Copies of the plans also were given to area news media to review. 
Beaufort County Schools can, within the parameters of the law, select materials from the lesson plans that are appropriate for use in local schools and include other materials that reflect the values of the community, BCS Superintendent Don Phipps said in a recent school-board discussion.
“We still have local control to pick and choose what we want to do,” he said. 
If approved by the school board Monday, the new curriculum could be ready for use in the local public schools by Thanksgiving, school officials have said. 
The Healthy Youth Act, approved by state lawmakers last year, requires the public schools to revamp sex education effective with the 2010-2011 school year that begins in August. 
The law expands the requirements for age-appropriate sex education offered to students as part of health-education courses in the seventh, eighth and ninth grades. While still emphasizing abstinence, the law requires students to receive more information on sexually transmitted diseases, effectiveness and safety of FDA-approved contraceptive devices in preventing pregnancy and disease and awareness of sexual assault, sexual abuse and risk reduction. 
It also gives 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 for 60 days prior to their use in public schools. 
“Everything in these plans has an opt-out provision for parents,” said school board Chairman Robert Belcher during a discussion of the changes at a recent school-board meeting. “A lot of parents think they should do the sex education for their children, and that’s fine, but for some parents it will be a relief for us to do this.” 
During those discussions, school leaders said the new material will likely be taught in a series of six to eight sessions in seventh-, eighth- and ninth-grade health classes.
Parents will be given a detailed list of materials to be covered in each session and the opportunity to opt out of any or all of the sessions, school officials have said.
Abstinence will continue to comprise the bulk of instruction in Beaufort County public schools and will likely be taught it at least the first three sessions, school leaders have said. 
The ASU lesson plans under review by the school board are in the form of a teacher’s manual and include goals for each class session, supplemental materials developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and classroom exercises.
The lesson plans emphasize the importance of building and maintaining healthy relationships. Students in seventh, eighth and ninth grades will receive age-appropriate information about the differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships in their family and among friends and dating. 
The plans recommend that students in the seventh grade also study the prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, the use of condoms, the factors leading to sexual assault and the importance of rejecting and reporting sexual assault.
Eighth-grade students also will study the effects of unintended pregnancy, the uses of contraception, resources available in the community to help answer their questions and safety from online predators.
Ninth-grade students also will study issues related to sexual assault and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. 
If the school board approves the use of the ASU lesson plans, school leaders will continue to review their contents and begin to develop day-by-day lesson plans for local health-education teachers to use, according to Patrick Abele, executive director for learning services. 
Once local lesson plans are adopted, the school system will begin training teachers in their use and develop alternate activities for those students whose parents have opted out of the instruction, Abele said. 
“If their children ‘opt out,’ we want parents to know exactly what their children will be doing during that class time,” he said. 
School leaders also plan to develop educational materials to help parents talk to their children about the same health- and sex-education topics they discuss in school. 
Phipps said the local school system plans to encourage parents to use these materials, once they are available. 
“Part of the parent education piece is, whether or not the parent opts out of the classroom instruction, the conversation should take place,” he said. 
What’s changing?
Changes to grades seven and eight and high-school health education classes required by the Healthy Youth Act of 2009 are effective with the 2010-2011 school year. Among the changes are the following: 
• Each local school board must allow parents or guardians to withdraw a child from the instruction. 
• Local school systems may expand the content to be included in the health-education program. 
• Classes must include instruction based on peer-reviewed scientific research accepted by professionals in the field; effectiveness and safety of FDA-approved contraceptive methods in preventing pregnancy; rates of infection among preteens of each known sexually transmitted disease and the effects of contracting each STD; information on the effects of contracting HPV including sterility and cervical cancer; information on local resources for testing and medical care of STDs. 
• Health-education classes are required to include instruction on sexual abuse and assault including information about what constitutes sexual assault and abuse, causes of this behavior, risk reduction, common misconceptions about sexual abuse and assault and information about resources and reporting procedures if they experience sexual assault or abuse. 
Source: Beaufort County Schools
What are the chances?
The sex-education lesson plans developed by the N.C. Comprehensive Health Education Training Center at Appalachian State University include classroom exercises that reinforce the lessons taught that day. 
One classroom activity is based on the statistic that each time a person has unprotected sex, they have a one in six chance of it resulting in a pregnancy.
The classroom exercise that reinforces that statistic to seventh-grade students involves the use of dice. Each student is given one die and told that they should roll it six times, recording the number on the die after each roll. The teacher then asks everyone in the room who rolled a six to stand. The students who stand represent a teenager who just got pregnant or just got a girl pregnant.
Source: Appalachian State University