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Board tables sex-ed vote

Rod Guajardo / The Natchez Democrat — Interim Superintendent Joyce Johnson discusses the sexual education policies that the Natchez-Adams County School District must choose before June 30.

NATCHEZ — The Natchez-Adams School Board voted Thursday to hold off on a vote about sex education until their understanding of the policies matures a bit.

The board voted 4-1 at its regular meeting to table a vote on which policy the district will adopt until next week.

The district’s administration has recommended a policy called “abstinence-only.”

Board member Dr. Benny Wright, who told a fellow board member he was prepared to vote for the “abstinence-plus” policy, voted against tabling the vote.

Along with every other school district in the state, NASD must choose a sex education policy before June 30. A state law passed last year, House Bill 999, mandates school districts choose either an “abstinence-only” policy or “abstinence-plus.”

The difference between abstinence-only and abstinence-plus is that with former policy, the school district may teach some or all of the following curriculum to students of the appropriate age, and the latter policy makes the following criteria mandatory.

The criteria includes:

•Social, psychological and health gains associated with abstinence

•Harmful consequences of adolescent sex

•Skills to deal with unwanted sexual advances, including the role of alcohol and drug use

• Abstinence as the only way to avoid pregnancy and STDs

• Discussions of condom and contraceptive use, along with facts about risks and failure rates

• State laws related to sexual conduct

• Teaching that a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in context of marriage is the most healthy option for sex

“I believe that our children need to be exposed to every educational opportunity in this (sex education) area that the state will approve,” Wright said.

“Hear, hear,” Board member Tim Blalock responded.

Interim Superintendent Joyce Johnson emphasized that if the district chooses abstinence only, they can still teach all the curriculum outlined by the state in the abstinence-plus policy.

“If you go with abstinence-plus you must teach (all aspects),” Johnson said.

Blalock said he would worry that if the district had an option to teach a limited curriculum, that the course would end up focusing on the minimum requirements.

“It’s baffling to me how much people don’t know and don’t talk about (sex),” Blalock said. “(The sex-education policy) is a great opportunity to give them the great truth.”

Board member David Troutman also shared concern that if some of the topics are optional they will not be covered.

“It’s just my feeling that some of those optional topics are very important,” Troutman said.

Barnett said the school board should follow the district’s recommendation, which was for abstinence-only.

ROD GUAJARDO / THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Incoming Superintendent Frederick Hill attends Thursday’s meeting.

“I think that leeway should be given to professional educators who we have employed to teach to decide what we’re going to teach,” Barnett said.

“That’s right,” Johnson responded.

Wright said the STD and teenage pregnancy statistics reveal that parents and churches are not effectively dealing with teen sex, and the sex-education policy provided an opportunity to apply good sense.

“We’ve got to pull our head out the sand and deal with what is real,” Wright said.

In other news from Thursday’s meeting:

• Though he kept quiet for the most part, incoming Superintendent Frederick Hill attended Thursday’s meeting. Barnett introduced Hill to the attendees after Hill shook hands with the principals.

“Thank you for the opportunity to serve, and to the staff and committee members of this district — I hope you will trust that I am going to work hard to move the Natchez-Adams School District in the right direction,” Hill said to applause.

Later at the meeting, the board voted to authorize Hill to be a signing party effective July 1 to the district’s bank account, along with Barnett and NASD Business Manager Margaret Parson.

• After the meeting, Director of Curriculum and Instruction Charlotte Franklin confirmed the district recently made principal assignments for newly reorganized schools.

The changes include the transfer of former Robert Lewis Middle School Principal Sekufele Lewanika to be the new ninth-grade academy principal on the campus of the Natchez High School. Lewanika will not have an assistant principal.

Former Robert Lewis Assistant Principal Zandra McDonald will now be an assistant principal at Morgantown Middle School, assisting Principal Alyson Bequette. Ernest “Tony” Fields will also remain as assistant principal at Morgantown.

Elementary and middle school teachers were recently mailed letters with their school assignments, which were randomly assigned with their respective certifications in mind, Franklin said.

• Troutman presented Johnson with a certificate of appreciation for her interim leadership, which she accepted to standing applause.

Wright said Johnson was very deserving of the thanks.

“(Johnson) came out of retirement to help us and (we’re) very appreciative of the work she has done and will continue to do as she steps aside as a private citizen,” Wright said.

• The board voted to solicit an architect for renovations of the Robert Lewis site’s transformation into a magnet school.

The board also voted to solicit an architect and take bids for a renovation to the Morgantown Middle School gym floor, which is currently carpeted.