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Back to April Ed Reporter
Education Reporter
NUMBER 207 THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS APRIL 2003

Huntsville City Schools Opt Out of Girls Inc. 
Curriculum with abstinence focus adopted instead
Pam Thomason
Pam Thomason
HUNTSVILLE, AL - The Huntsville City Schools have replaced a comprehensive sex education program sponsored by a national organization called Girls Inc. with "Choosing the Best Life," an abstinence-focused curriculum for grades 9-12. An eight-member curriculum committee made up of health teachers, parents, the Nursing Health Services Coordinator, and the Huntsville City Schools' Director of Secondary Education, voted unanimously Feb. 19 to approve the new curriculum.

This turn of events may not have come about without the persistence of registered nurse and concerned parent, Pam Thomason, who discovered that the Girls Inc. curriculum was in violation of Alabama's 1992 abstinence law and the 1997 State Board of Education Resolution calling for supplementary materials that comply with the law.

Alabama code 16-40A-2 states: "Any program or curriculum in the public schools in Alabama that includes sex education or the human reproductive process shall, as a minimum, include and emphasize" that "abstinence from sexual intercourse is the only completely effective protection against unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and AIDS when transmitted sexually." The Girls Inc. curriculum, called "Taking Care of Business" (TCB), does include abstinence, but students are also taught the concept of "safe sex" or the use of "protection." As Pam Thomason points out, these are opposing concepts.

Alabama law also states: "Abstinence from sexual intercourse outside of lawful marriage is the expected social standard for unmarried school-age persons." The Girls Inc. curriculum does not include "expected social standards" of premarital sexual behavior. "Students are taught to decide for themselves what is right for them," reports Thomason. "Unwed sexual activity is acceptable as long as it is planned and contraception is used. This is considered 'safe' or 'protected' sex."

The Alabama abstinence law further states that homosexuality is "not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public and that homosexual conduct is a criminal offense under the laws of the state." Girls, Inc., however, considers homosexuality to be an acceptable lifestyle and discourages "homophobia." "The website provides resources for teens who think they are homosexuals," Thomason notes. "It also encourages people to write their Congressmen asking them to vote against federal funding for abstinence-until-marriage education."

The Girls Inc. curriculum is a comprehensive sex education program used in schools across the country. According to Thomason, TCB's goals are to prevent teen pregnancy, STDs and HIV transmission through "abstinence" and "smart choices." These "smart choices" include: (1) Abstinence from sexual activity until one is "older," "ready," and/or "responsible" (marriage is not a prerequisite); (2) preparing for planned or spontaneous sexual activity by using condoms and/or other contraceptives, or having them available "just in case", even if unmarried. TCB does not specifically promote abstinence until marriage as required by Alabama law.

Pam Thomason
The Huntsville schools chose
an abstinence-centered program.
After gathering evidence to demonstrate how the Girls Inc. curriculum violates Alabama state law, Thomason began her campaign to create awareness among school officials, school board members, and parents. When it appeared that school officials were not concerned about the problem, she even contacted non-profit legal organizations, one of which, the Alliance Defense Fund, recommended that she contact the State Attorney General's office for advice on the issue.

When she wrote to the school superintendent saying that she was planning to contact the Attorney General's office, a meeting was finally arranged in October with school officials to allow her to present her case against the Girls Inc. curriculum. When it appeared that no further action would be taken, Thomason questioned the school board about sex education policies on Jan. 2, 2003. Of particular concern was whether or not there were any policies regarding the approval of supplemental curriculum such as "Taking Care of Business" from Girls, Inc.

That meeting led to the formation of a curriculum review committee, and Thomason managed to obtain a slot on the committee. "This committee was to have been established six years ago when the Girls Inc. organization first brought TCB into the Huntsville schools," Thomason explains. "Incredibly, no one in the school system had actually read the curriculum. They did not realize that the curriculum did not comply with the 1992 Alabama law or the State School Board resolution from 1997. The teachers wanted to keep the program in the schools because they felt it helped students to 'open up' and talk about sexual issues that they may be uncomfortable discussing with their parents."

Thomason adds that TCB was not readily available for parental viewing either, and that, after the curriculum review committee was formed, parts of it were replaced, switched, or stricken altogether. For example, last year a student complained of "learning things in health class" that she "wished she had never known." The girl described objectionable magazine pictures that were passed around the classroom and video clips suggestive of oral sex and other sexual activities that were shown. While these were not part of the curriculum itself, they were used as supplementary materials by a program "facilitator."

Parents also learned that facilitators were allowed to offer sexual advice and refer students to community agencies such as the health department without parental knowledge. It is legal in Alabama for community agencies to provide medical services such as STD testing at age 12, contraception at age 14, and abortions at age 16 without parental knowledge or consent.

For now, Girls Inc. and TCB are not allowed in the Huntsville schools. "While this is a clear victory for abstinence education, there are still issues that need to be resolved regarding sex education in the schools," says Thomason. "This week the school board will take up the discussion of how to handle such issues. Meanwhile, 'Choosing the Best Life' is an excellent abstinence curriculum, and it conforms with Alabama state law."

Although Thomason faced considerable opposition from health teachers and school district officials when she began her crusade, she says there were always people "behind the scenes" who encouraged her. In the end, the Director of Secondary Education for the Huntsville School system "was very vocal in her objections to the Girls Inc. curriculum in that it did not comply with the law or the Alabama Health Course of Study. She did not take sides," notes Thomason, "and we were able to install the abstinence curriculum by a unanimous vote."


 
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