School board adopts abstinence-only policy

Published 12:05 am Wednesday, June 20, 2012

NATCHEZ — It took more than one vote and a temporary handing-over of the chairman’s gavel to get it done, but the Natchez-Adams County School District Board of Trustees voted to adopt an abstinence-only sex education curriculum for the school district’s sixth graders.

A state mandate required that all school districts adopt an abstinence-only or abstinence-plus sex education policy and the NASD adopted the curriculum titled “Rise to Your Dreams, ” which has all 12 modules that are required in the abstinence-plus curriculum.

Though the board approved abstinence-only, it voted to require all 12 modules be taught.

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When the course is completed, the board will be presented with a report detailing how the information was received, the number of students who participated and any recommendations teachers and administrators might have about how the teaching of the course could be changed.

The curriculum requires an opt-in by parents, meaning that students who do not have permission may not take the course. Abstinence-only education allows schools to not cover all topics regarding sexual health in their presentations to students, while abstinence-plus requires more explicit teaching, including discussion of condoms and contraceptive use, along with facts about risks and failure rates.

Board member David Troutman made the motion that eventually passed, and said his initial support for the abstinence-plus curriculum had waned.

“Maybe I am changing my thinking, (because) at a sixth-grade level, I am not sure I want to insist these topics be covered,” Troutman said.

“If it was going to be a high school curriculum. I might vote differently.”

President Wayne Barnett said his support for the abstinence only plan was because it allowed for local flexibility.

“I think local people can make better decisions about what is taught than people in Jackson or people in Washington, D.C.,” Barnett said. “I think teachers and administrators can make better decisions about what should be taught than school board members can.”

Board members Tim Blalock and Benny Wright objected to that, with Blalock saying that while granting deference to school districts sounds like a good idea, it doesn’t always work.

“We have got 30 years of statistics showing that if you give deference, it doesn’t get done right,” Blalock said. “I would love to see it tried for a year, but if it isn’t done right, we have lost a whole crop of kids.”

Wright pointed to statistics as evidence that something stronger needs to be taught to students.

“Mississippi has one of the highest AIDS statistics in the country,” he said. “We have a huge, high number of teen pregnancies; we have a high number of sexually transmitted diseases. What is it we don’t want our kids to know? Why not teach anything that the state finds legal? We need everything.”

Wright also said that the school district’s past setting of standards hasn’t always paid off with stellar results.

“We have a track record in areas where we do have education ad libbed based on teachers, principals and administrators, and our record does not speak of the control and innovation you speak to,” Wright said, addressing Barnett.

After the initial discussion about the curriculum, when Barnett asked for a motion, none was made and he moved on to other items on the meeting agenda.

When the board members returned to the topic, Troutman made the motion that later passed, but no board member seconded the motion.

In order to get a second, Barnett stepped down as chairman of the meeting, handing the gavel to Blalock. He then seconded Troutman’s motion, though he noted that, “If you say we are going to cover all of these (topics), then we are saying the same thing as abstinence-plus.”

Blalock said this year’s sex education session would require that everything be taught, but then teachers could come back to the school board and tell the board what they thought about it and if any changes needed to be made in approach.

Troutman’s motion took two tries to pass. The first time Troutman and Barnett voted for it, Wright against and Blalock abstained, which caused it to fail.

After clarification of the motion, a second vote was taken, with Barnett, Troutman and Blalock voting for it and Wright against. Board member Thelma Newsome was not present.

The board also voted to adopt salary schedules for the school district, a second topic that had to be addressed and then revisited later in the meeting.

During the initial discussion, the board voted to adopt salary schedules for all employees except for administrative support personnel.

After the second discussion of the issue, the board voted to adopt the administrative support personnel salary schedule with an instruction for the superintendent to come back to the board with a report on personnel placement and job descriptions to clarify the duties of administrative assistants.

“We need to find out, are they administrative assistants or are they secretaries?” Barnett said.

“We need to look at our central office and revamp our central office with new, updated job descriptions, and we need to pay people for the job they are doing.”

Blalock said that even though a salary schedule has been adopted for positions under a given title, the school district’s administration can make a determination that no one falls under that salary schedule.

“We already adopted a salary schedule for secretaries,” Blalock said. “If anybody fits that title, then they just shift over to that (pay) schedule. The administration at any point with these people can change their job title. They are at-will employees.”

The only board member to vote against the motion was Wright.

“What do you do for the spirit of the person whose salary has been reduced, not because of the job they are doing, but because of budget cuts?” he said.

After a preliminary reading of the NASD budget for 2012-2013, the board voted to allow NASD Business Manager Margaret Parson to advertise for public comment a proposed budget of $11,686,653.

Parson said the budget is a $565 increase over last year.

When Troutman asked incoming Superintendent Frederick Hill — who does not officially start work for the district until July 1 but was in attendance at the meeting — what he thought of the proposed budget, Hill said, “Just looking at the figures, we are in a very good position compared to other districts I have looked at.”

Barnett commended Interim Superintendent Joyce Johnson for finding ways to spend money wisely, but also said the district needs to look at more ways to make cuts.

“We need to look at ways to trim the budget in addition to what has already been done,” he said. “If there is no fat there to trim, fine, but we need to take another look at it.”

“We need to make sure we look at the amount of money we have to spend, period, and make plans to spend that money wisely.”