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City Schools of Decatur clarifies “The Talk” sex education event

Decaturish updates

City Schools of Decatur clarifies “The Talk” sex education event

Ad from Decatur Focus mag.

Ad from Decatur Focus mag.

As a reporter, I’m trained to keep an eye out for things that seem a little unusual.

Yesterday, I received a copy of an email that City Schools of Decatur Spokeswoman Heather Borowski sent to parents at the 4/5 Academy at Fifth Avenue, with the eye-catching subject line “Special Message Regarding Newsletter.”

Here email message piqued my interest. I’ve highlighted the interesting stuff in bold text.

“Please note that we included an upcoming October 1st event in this week’s F.AVE newsletter that may need more clarification,” her email began. “There is an organization promoting a seminar called ‘The Talk’ and renting our facilities at Renfroe Middle School.

“Please know that this is not an event sponsored by Renfroe Middle School. Renfroe is renting the facility to the organization in accordance with the City Schools of Decatur’s Facilities Rental Policy. Again, City Schools of Decatur is not endorsing nor promoting this event.

The event, it should be noted, is entirely voluntary and begins well after school hours at 6:30 p.m. There’s a fee to attend, $15 for individuals and $20 for couples.

Now why, I wondered, would City Schools of Decatur send out a message distancing itself from an event being held in one of its schools?

Here’s the announcement for the event as it appeared in the recent Decatur Focus mag. Some things in the announcement attracted my attention, too.

“Would you like to be better equipped to talk to your teen about sex and making healthy choices for their future? You are not alone! Please join the prevention team for the Pregnancy Center of Decatur for ‘The Talk’! ‘The Talk’ is a 90-minute interactive presentation that will equip parents with the necessary tools and strategies to talk with their tween or teen about sex, healthy dating, making good decisions and more.”

Well, sexual education is fertile grounds for controversy, I thought to myself. Could Borowski be responding to a brewing controversy?

I did a little digging around (I’m good at this) and found out some more info about the program and the group behind it.

“The Talk” is organized by a group called “Speaking Words of Absolute Truth,” (S.W.A.T.). I went to a little high school in Hurley, Miss. and know that “truth” is usually a code-word for something that involves religion.

I found this on the S.W.A.T. “About” page:

“Our goal is to empower this generation to set high standards and avoid risky behaviors, thereby avoiding the significant physical, psychological, social, and financial consequences of pre-marital sexual activity.

But there was nothing explicitly religious. To get to the religious connection, I had to visit the website of S.W.A.T.’s parent organization, A Beacon of Hope.

Beacon is a religious nonprofit organization that operates Pregnancy Center of Decatur and Pregnancy Center of Johns Creek.

So what does “A Beacon of Hope” have to say about pre-marital sex? Here’s the information posted on Beacon’s “About” page.

“A Beacon of Hope respects and empowers patients in regards to the fact that from a medically accurate perspective and a Biblical perspective the sanctity of sex is to be between a husband and a wife within the context of a healthy marriage relationship. A Beacon of Hope also stands firm in its belief that marriage is an institution to be respected.”

So will students going to Renfroe hear about the Biblical perspective from S.W.A.T.? Not officially.

The S.W.A.T. website deftly avoids using any language that would identify itself as being backed by a religious organization.

We also have the assurances of people who have spoken at schools on behalf of S.W.A.T.

While doing some more research, I came across a website for Ben Jones, founder of Ratio Christi, another religious nonprofit. Jones identifies himself as a speaker for S.W.A.T. in his profile.

Jones’ biography says, “His volunteer work includes providing free video services and counseling for men at multiple crisis pregnancy centers. Also through these centers, the SWAT program (Speaking Words of Absolute Truth) allows him to speak in secular middle schools on the benefits of saving sex for marriage during their sex ed curriculum.”

I also found an enlightening comment that Jones left on the “Life Training Institute”  Pro Life blog under an article titled, “Is abstinence-only killing the pro-life message?

He describes his experiences working with S.W.A.T.

“I was a little skeptical at first, but it turns out the presentation material I’m supposed to work with is pretty solid,” he wrote. “I can avoid using the term abstinence’ and it’s a very objective and factual presentation, and I can branch off that to make it very personal and down-to-earth. I think the presentation is of great value, but I’m not allowed to talk about abortion or pro-life unless a student raises his hand and specifically asks about it. It’s a little disheartening, but I simply can’t go beyond what I’m allowed to do.”

I reached out to Jones, the S.W.A.T. folks, the 4/5 Academy at Fifth Avenue PTO, and Borowski for a comment about this event. I also asked what the specific concerns of parents might be. In fairness to them, I did so very late Tuesday evening (I do this in my off-time, after all) so it might take them a moment to respond. I will let you know when they do.

It’s pretty clear that the group in question knows where the line is and works incredibly hard to avoid crossing it. In case you were wondering, I also looked up City Schools of Decatur rental agreement. It doesn’t appear to conflict with the S.W.A.T. presentation in any way, as Borowski indicated in her letter to parents.

As a bad Catholic, I understand the goals and arguments of the Pro Life movement. I think abstinence only education is bit naive but I respect it as a personal choice for others to make. As best I can tell, nothing about S.W.A.T.’s presentation conflicts with the goals or policies of City Schools of Decatur.

I would like to know more about the specific concerns raised by parents. Obviously there were a few inquiries or the school system wouldn’t have sent out the message.

If there’s anyone out there who can tell me more about their concerns, I’d like to hear from them. Please shoot me an email: [email protected].

Or, you can leave a comment. What are people saying about this issue?