ACLU Mom Helps Stop Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Curriculum in DeKalb County, Georgia

It all started with an announcement of reproductive rights article in the school newsletter. In November 2004, parents at the Shamrock Middle School in DeKalb County, Georgia, were notified of a PTA meeting in January to discuss a new abstinence-only-until-marriage curriculum for eighth graders.

Sue Briss was one of several parents for whom a red flag was raised as soon as she read the words “abstinence-only.” As local parents like Briss started sharing their concerns about the new curriculum, they soon formed a loose-knit group dedicated to looking deeper into the situation. In the end, about 15 parents organized and spent the months of December and January researching the curriculum, meeting with the principal, and trying to sound the alarm throughout the community. As luck would have it, in early December, the proposed curriculum, Choosing the Best, was singled out in a report by a Congressional committee, which listed it as one of 11 curricula used by federally funded abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that contain false and misleading information and perpetuate harmful stereotypes.

For Briss, I am choosing the Best posed more than just accuracy problems. She was also concerned with a lack of privacy. The curriculum’s workbook had students answer all sorts of personal questions, including family information, drinking habits, and sexual experiences. All of which was collected in a workbook bearing the student’s name and handed back to the teacher.

Needless to say, when the PTA meeting rolled around in January of this year, the parents in DeKalb County were armed and ready. The questions began as soon as the representative from Choosing the Best started his presentation, and they continued throughout the meeting. Afterward, a reporter from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution who was covering the story found out that Choosing the Best had never gone through the appropriate channels for approval by the school board, and in March the curriculum was removed from the schools.

Even though Briss and her fellow parents achieved local success, many of them don’t plan on leaving behind this issue any time soon. They formed Georgia Parents for Responsible Health Education and are taking their cause for comprehensive sex education to the greater metro area in Atlanta. This fall they will hold forums called “Let’s Talk” for parents to start a dialog about sex education and discuss what kind of education they want for their kids. In Briss’s view, “Any solid sex ed program is going to emphasize abstinence and refusal skills, but it is equally important to give kids the facts when it comes to contraception. This information is vital in protecting against STDs, HIV, and unintended pregnancies.” Parents shouldn’t just sit back and assume that their kids are getting proper sex ed. They need to be proactive, and as Briss said, “When they do become informed, many parents are starting to realize that they got better sex ed in school than their kids are currently getting.” It’s hard to believe that we, as a country, could be moving backward instead of forwards when it comes to sex ed; however, Briss’s story makes clear that even with a small group of people it’s possible to reverse course.

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