Gwinnett County’s school board put off making a decision on Gwinnett County Public Schools’ proposed new health and sex education curriculum on Thursday amid ongoing pushback from parents and after Georgia’s top education official raised concerns about it.
The board unanimously voted to remove the $15 million proposed health curriculum, known as HealthSmart, from its meeting agenda at the beginning of the gathering. It is unclear at this point when the curriculum will be voted on.
The district currently uses an abstinence-focused curriculum called Choosing the Best.
“Local public feedback does not support expansion into a comprehensive sex education program, as advanced by HealthSmart,” said board member Mary Kay Murphy, who made the motion to remove the curriculum from the agenda.
“Today, alone, our school board received more than 300 constituents contacting us to ask us for a delay and re-evaluation of adopting sex ed materials, including the HealthSmart materials.”
The move by the school board to delay a decision came after Georgia State School Superintendent Richard Woods raised concerns about the proposed curriculum change in a letter to GCPS Superintendent Calvin Watts and Gwinnett school board members on Tuesday. Within 24 hours of the letter being sent, parents who opposed the curriculum change had obtained a copy of it and circulated it on social media.
The Daily Post obtained a copy of the letter from the Georgia Department of Education to confirm is contents.
“Regarding the instruction of sex education, Gwinnett’s current curriculum presents itself to be better aligned with the emphasis on abstinence in accordance with state standards and law, as well as State Board of Education board rule,” Woods said in the letter.
Murphy and fellow Board Member Steve Knudsen have said a district survey that parents were asked to participate in last fall showed about 90% of participants expressed opposition to the HealthSmart curriculum.
Whether the proposed HealthSmart curriculum meets state curriculum standards has been one of several points of contention over the proposed change.
Supporters of Choosing the Best point to a decline in the number of teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted disease cases involving school-age children since the program was put in place more than 20 years ago. They also criticize images, which they say are too graphic, in the proposed instructional materials as well as insufficient information on the dangers of pornography. They also fear students will read the materials and feel it validates teens engaging in sexual behavior.
A panel of educators recommended the adoption of the HealthSmart curriculum, with one health teacher telling board members last month the program has a digital component and a skills-based approach which are benefits for teachers.
A representative speaking on behalf of HealthSmart sent out background information, about the program, to reporters on Thursday.
The information sent out on behalf of HealthSmart asserts parents who oppose the program are basing their decisions off misinformation about it.
HealthSmart is accusing unnamed “well-funded organizations” of working to turn public opinion against comprehensive sex education at the local and national levels.
“Their strategy is to create fear among parents through misinformation about the curriculum, packing school board meetings and related meetings to control curriculum decisions,” the information sheet sent out to reporters states.
“Their efforts often have focused on the sex education standards that are inclusive of LGBTQ+ students. These groups typically argue that sex education is usurping parental rights and encouraging sexual activity and/or gender confusion, and instead call for abstinence-only curricula, such as the Choosing The Best curriculum currently in use by GCPS.”
HealthSmart also asserted that its curriculum — which includes HIV, STI, pregnancy prevention, abstinence, puberty and personal health information for middle and high school students as well as as sexual health for fourth and fifth graders — is compliant with Georgia education standards.
The program also covers topics such as emotional and mental health, personal health and wellness, injury and violence prevention, nutrition and physical activity and tobacco, alcohol and drug prevention.
“The ultimate goal of the HealthSmart program is to promote the healthy growth and development of youth and give them the knowledge and skills to make healthy choices and establish life-long healthy behaviors,” the information sent out on HealthSmart’s behalf states.
But, Woods said there are parts of the proposed curriculum that does not fit with Georgia standards. He indicated in his letter that GCPS officials did provide information about the proposed curriculum to the Georgia Department of Education and that the information was reviewed to see if it complied with the state’s standards.
“Upon an initial review, there is content in the proposed curriculum that is not included in our state standards,” Woods wrote in the letter. “The proposed curriculum expands instruction within grades K-5. State law only requires age-appropriate sexual abuse and assault awareness and prevention in these grades.
“The proposed curriculum seems to go above this requirement, and it appears local public feedback does not support expansion into this grade band.
Woods also pointed out there were sections of the proposed curriculum that refer to Collaborative for Academic Social and Emotional Learning standards, also known as CASEL standards, “which are not recognized or adopted by the Georgia Department of Education or State Board of Education and are not part of the state-approved standards for health education in Georgia.”
There are people in the sexual assault recovery field who support the move to HealthSmart, however. Mosaic Georgia Executive Director Marina Peed spoke in support of the program during the board meeting.
“It promotes positive social norms, including abstinence and it provides accurate information for responsible conversations about our bodies, self respect, and consent,” Peed said.
“I absolutely understand parents desire to prioritize the message of abstinence for boys and for girls. Parents should act as the first teachers for their children, however many parents are uncomfortable and uncertain about how to have ‘The Talk’ with the kids without blushing or lecturing.”
Peed added that she feels GCPS should be where children learn a broader array of sex education information rather than finding information on the internet.
“If you ask youths today where they get most of their sex ed, they’ll say through friends, social media, the internet, and porn,” Peed said as she held up a smartphone. “And, it’s all accessible in these handy devices.”
District officials have argued that GCPS will offer an “opt out” option for parents who disagree with the curriculum and don’t want it taught to the children.
Woods, however, told Gwinnett leaders that relying on an “opt out” option, “needlessly puts Gwinnett families and parents in a zero-sum situation.”
Success! An email has been sent to with a link to confirm list signup.
Error! There was an error processing your request.
Welcome to the discussion.
Please log in, or sign up for a new, free account to read or post comments.
Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.