The Liberty County Board of Education on Tuesday approved sexual-education resources in accordance with state guidelines.
The vote was unanimous, but board member Carolyn Smith Carter said after the April 16 meeting that she had concerns about some of the topics to be addressed and the number of clergy members who sat on the Liberty County Sexuality Education Committee.
Smith Carter again voiced her concerns Tuesday morning and said some topics were too detailed, but board Chairwoman Lily Baker, a former health teacher, assured the content is nothing new.
“It’s nothing new. In fact, what you didn’t see was a bunch of graphic pictures that you have to show as well,” Baker said.
During her time teaching at Liberty County High School, Baker said only two parents ever expressed concerns.
Curriculum specialist Susan Avant served as the committee chairwoman this year, and she said the roles of the 19-member committee are dictated by state guidelines.
Avant met several times with teachers to gather source materials leading up to the Feb. 19, March 5 and March 27 committee meetings.
The committee included 19 members.
“You have to have a high-school junior, a high-school senior, non-teaching parents, it is recommended that you have a member of clergy, a business leader, and then, of course, we had one teacher from each middle- and high-school and then one representative from elementary school,” Avant added.
“The state sets forth what we have to teach; the only thing that we have to do is approve the materials that are being used locally,” Avant said. “Every system has to do this, it’s required annually.”
The sexual education programming is standards-based but does have an opt-out provision prior to instruction, Avant said.
The county, like many others in the state, focuses on an abstinence-based education.
From kindergarten through fifth-grade, the topic is approached from a “good touch, bad touch” perspective about abuse, and older children learn about how their bodies will change.
“We handle it as sensitively as possible, and our teachers do go through training to make sure we handle the sensitive topic age-appropriately,” she added.
In middle school, the focus is on the changes that come with puberty and an introduction to risky behaviors.
At the high-school level, Avant said, the discussion is about “risky behaviors.”
“We talk about risky behaviors and how to minimize risky behaviors,” Avant said. “As far as getting into very specifics, we don’t; we talk about how there are certain things that you can do to minimize risks, but abstinence is the only 100 percent solution or no-risk behavior.”
While the conversation may center on risky behaviors, data available through the Georgia Department of Public Health’s Online Analytical Statistical Information System indicates rates of pregnancy and births among teens are higher here than the state averages most places within the Coastal Health District.
In 2011, there were 27 children born in Liberty County to mothers between 15 and 17 years old, a birth rate of 20.4 per thousand according to OASIS. No children were born to girls between 10 and 14.
Within the Coastal Health District, Liberty County had the second-highest birth rate among that age group, following Glynn County with a rate of 29 per thousand. Both counties were above the state’s birth rate of 18.9 per thousand.
The same year, the pregnancy rate of ages 15 to17 was 33.1 per thousand, ahead of the state rate of 28 per thousand.
The same numbers were documented for 2010, for a birth rate of 19 per thousand among teens ages 15 to 17.
In 2009, there were 22 births to mothers ages 15 to 17 and one birth to a mother between 10 and 14.
In 2008, there were two births to mothers between 10 and 14, while there were 39 births to mothers between 15 and 17. That year, the Liberty birth rate was 27.7 per thousand.
In 2007, there were 49 births to mothers 15 to 17.
Lead school nurse Carol Darsey also was on the committee. The school system overall does not track student pregnancies, she said.
“I think it would be great if somehow we could address the needs of our students. We know that children are becoming sexually active at different ages — it’s not always after they’re out of public school — and sometimes I feel like we don’t equip them with all the information they need to make those choices once they do make the decision to become sexually active,” she said.
Darsey said she received resource input from nurses at three other districts, though the content seems constant from previous years.
“A lot of them say that they’re not using this information in their district, but it’s something they hope to use …,” Darsey said. “I think that any time we have changes within our sex-ed program, it’s a controversial subject.”
The classes typically are taught by counselors or nurses at the elementary level and health or physical-education teachers in upper grades, she said. The district also trains the teachers to minimize discomfort with the topics.
“We’d like to have health and sex education discussed at home like they would any other subject so that the students are comfortable approaching their parents with the topic,” Darsey said. “It would be nice for the parents to know what their children are being taught, because they may want to add to that.”