Charleston County schools superintendent proposes parent options for sex education

Charleston County School District Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait has proposed giving parents a choice of different sex-education courses for their children.

Charleston County School District Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait floated a new idea for teaching sex education that would allow parents to choose the curriculum their children learn.

“This is always a very difficult issue. You are tasked to make a decision that many parents want to make themselves,” Postlewait told the district’s eight-member health advisory committee at its first meeting of the current school year on Thursday. “As you’re thinking about the curriculum that you might select or recommend to the board for consideration, I don’t believe that we have to narrow that down to one choice.”

The school district, she explained, could offer parents two or three sex education options from which to choose. Per state law, parents would still retain the right to exempt their children from any sex education class.

“It would mean we would have to change dramatically our delivery services,” she added. “You may hear some people say that can’t be done. It would be very difficult to provide choices to parents and maintain our current service delivery, but there isn’t any reason why we can’t think very creatively about how to give parents choices.”

Postlewait’s proposal comes at the end of a summer of controversy surrounding sex education in Charleston County schools. In May, the district’s health advisory committee unanimously voted to recommend Making Proud Choices!, an evidence-based, comprehensive sex education curriculum, to the Charleston County School Board. The board’s July strategic education committee meeting drew both supporters and critics of the curriculum, who argued that Making Proud Choices!, which teaches effective contraceptive use in addition to abstinence, promoted sexual activity among minors.

But the controversial curriculum never came up for a vote. In August, members of the strategic education committee pulled it from their agenda. At the time, board member Kate Darby told The Post and Courier, “We feel like we were rushing this a little bit.”

Their decision frustrated Amy Fribbs, the health advisory committee chairwoman and nursing instructor at Trident Technical College.

“Choice is good. One shoe does not fit all,” she said of Postlewait’s proposal. “(Abstinence-until-marriage sex education) may be one of the choices. We’re just trying to get another choice out there for those children who are in high-risk populations.”

Under the 1988 Comprehensive Health Education Act, public schools are required to teach sexual and reproductive health education. The curriculum must emphasize abstinence until marriage, and for high school students, explain various methods of contraception. Volunteer-run health advisory committees — made up of students, teachers, clergy and medical professionals — are responsible for reviewing sex education curriculum and making recommendations to district school boards.

The Charleston County School District currently offers five board-approved abstinence-based sex education curricula. Former and current health advisory committee members said they liked Making Proud Choices! because it’s medically accurate, data-driven, covers “sexting” and long acting reversible contraceptions, like intrauterine devices, or IUDs.

Emma Ball, a health advisory member and teacher at Liberty Hill Academy, said she hopes the school board’s strategic education committee will review and discuss the curriculum at its meeting in October.

“I hope going forward, our role is taken seriously and our recommendations are given thoughtful consideration,” she said. “It’s important to every student.”

In accordance with a new state budget proviso passed this summer, the Charleston County School District will begin posting on its website the title and publisher of all of the board’s approved health education curricula.

The health advisory committee currently has five vacancies The school board’s policy and personnel committee with meet on Monday to discuss how to fill those vacancies.

Reach Deanna Pan by 937-5764.