How to Support Georgia’s Schools Post-Roe

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling striking down Roe v. Wade has left states to decide limits on abortion access. In 2019 Georgia lawmakers passed House Bill 481, banning most abortions once fetal cardiac activity is detected—roughly six weeks into a pregnancy. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals recently decided HB 481 can take effect.

As most people who can get pregnant do not know they are pregnant at six weeks the state of reproduction policy will change significantly in Georgia moving forward. Georgia’s public schools must adapt to this new landscape with evidence-based policy. State lawmakers should:

  • Mandate statewide comprehensive sex education
  • Expand and finance parental leave
  • Increase funding for pregnant students

Comprehensive Sex Education Can Prevent Unwanted Pregnancies

Georgia’s schools are required to offer sex education that highlights abstinence from sex as an “effective method of prevention of pregnancy.”[1] Local districts have wide latitude on the specific curriculum and subjects that this course covers. A report from 2018 found that a third of the high schools in the state taught a curriculum that promoted sexual abstinence and might mislead students on the effectiveness of alternative methods of birth control.[2] Research suggests that abstinence-only sex education programs are ineffective in preventing teenage pregnancy.[3]

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reviewed Georgia’s policies around school-based sexual health education and found multiple areas that need to be addressed to align the law with evidence-based practices.[4] The table below shows characteristics of robust sex education and where Georgia law stands.

Georgia Sex Education Policy Missing Necessary Pieces

Common Attributes of Effective School-Based Sexual Health Education Included in Law(s)
Curriculum is delivered by trained instructors Not included
Parents and/or other key stakeholders are involved in the review, development and/or approval of curriculum Required
Curriculum follows federal or national standards, guidelines and/or recommendations Not included
Curriculum is appropriate for age or developmental stage Optional
Curriculum is medically accurate Not included
Instruction is sequential across grade levels Not included
Curriculum includes instruction on strategies or skills Required

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017). Analysis of state health education laws: Georgia summary report.

Additionally, policymakers should reconsider Governor Deal’s 2013 decision to forgo millions in federal funding for HIV/AIDS prevention in order for students to avoid answering anonymous survey questions on sexual behavior.[5] The governor opted out of a section of a national CDC school-administered survey of health-related behaviors out of fears that the questions were age-inappropriate. As of 2019 Georgia had the second highest rate of positive HIV diagnoses in the country.[6]

Well-designed courses and reliable data can reduce risky sexual behaviors, bolster education and improve health outcomes for students.[7] Georgia lawmakers can and should support students by enhancing and mandating comprehensive sex education.

School Employees Need Twelve-Week Parental Leave

Last year Gov. Kemp signed House Bill 146, creating a paid parental leave policy for government employees—including public school teachers. Starting July 1, 2021, teachers could use 120 hours (or three weeks) of paid time off after a birth, adoption or placement of a child in foster care in their home.[8] Lawmakers passed HB 146 without any funding, leaving local schools with the bill for long-term substitutes. Policymakers need to not only obligate funding for schools but extend the length of parental leave to at least 12 weeks.

Considering that most childcare centers will not accept infants younger than six weeks old, a three-week parental leave policy is inadequate.[9] The American Academy of Pediatrics, the Pediatric Policy Council and the American Public Health Association all recommend paid parental leave of at least 12 weeks.[10] This time frame allows for organs to return to nonreproductive state, healing for those who underwent a Cesarean section, and partial recovery time for those dealing with postpartum depression.[11] Extended paid parental leave has shown positive economic benefits as well—studies found that the policy can increase labor force participation for parents.[12] These benefits advance racial equity by providing greater support those who, due in part to generations of white supremacist policies in Georgia, could not afford to take time off after a child’s birth.[13] Creating and paying for a robust parental leave policy will support working families and is needed regardless of the state of abortion policy in Georgia, but should be an urgent priority for lawmakers when HB 481 is implemented.

Georgia’s Schools Need Finances to Reflect New Landscape

Georgia’s schools need financial support to meet the needs of, among other changes, more pregnant students and growing enrollment. Federal Title IX rules protect pregnant students from being shuffled into alternative schools or excluded from educational programs.[14] Additionally, pregnant students are entitled to special educational accommodations/services depending on need that include but are not limited to larger desks, elevator access, at-home instruction or tutoring.[15] Without increased state funding, school districts will have to rely on local property taxes to meet these obligations. Since local taxes are reliant on the property value of the community, the quality of these services will vary significantly between districts in the state.

Conclusion

Public schools are often required to respond to changing societal expectations. The U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe and the implementation of HB 481 will once again place public schools in the position of meeting an unexpected moment caused by factors outside of the school’s walls. Lawmakers can better prepare the public education system for this new reality via changes to curriculum, parental leave policy and school funding.

Endnotes

[1] O.C.G.A. § 20-2-143

[2] Peel, S. (2018). Sex ed in Georgia schools still abstinence-heavy. Georgia Public Broadcasting. https://www.gpb.org/news/2018/07/30/sex-ed-in-georgia-schools-still-abstinence-heavy

[3] Stanger-Hall, K. F. (2011). Abstinence-only education and teen pregnancy rates: why we need comprehensive sex education in the U.S. PLoS ONE. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0024658; Ott, M. A., & Santelli, J. S. (2007). Abstinence and abstinence-only education. Current opinion in obstetrics & gynecology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5913747/

[4] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017). Analysis of state health education laws: Georgia summary report. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/policy/pdf/summary_report_factsheets/Georgia.pdf

[5] Shapiro, J. (2013). Gov’s decision to opt out of student sex survey to cost state $2 million. WABE. https://www.wabe.org/govs-decision-opt-out-student-sex-survey-cost-state-2-million/

[6] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). HIV surveillance report. https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/pdf/library/reports/surveillance/cdc-hiv-surveillance-report-2018-updated-vol-32.pdf

[7] Ibid.

[8] House Bill 146. (2021). https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/59021

[9] McClure, R. (2021). When babies can start daycare and what to look for. Verywell Family. https://www.verywellfamily.com/what-age-should-a-baby-be-placed-in-child-care-616928#:~:text=Most%20centers%20offering%20infant%20daycare,pros%20and%20cons%20of%20each.

[10] Schulte, B. et. al. (2017). A timeline of paid family leave. New America. https://www.newamerica.org/better-life-lab/reports/paid-family-leave-how-much-time-enough/a-timeline-of-paid-family-leave/

[11] National Collaborating Centre for Primary Care (UK). Postnatal care: Routine postnatal care of women and their babies. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK55919/; National Collaborating Centre for Primary Care (UK). Caesarean section. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK115312/; Thompson, J. F. et. al. (2002). Prevalence and persistence of health problems after childbirth: Associations with parity and method of birth. National Library of Medicine. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12051189/

[12] Paid Family Leave. (2021). Prenatal-to-3 Policy. https://pn3policy.org/policy-clearinghouse/2021-paid-family-leave/

[13] Burtle, A., & Bezruchka, S. (2016). Population health and paid parental leave: What the United States can learn from two decades of research. Healthcare. https://doi.org/10.3390/healthcare4020030

[14] U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. (2013). Supporting the academic success of pregnant and parenting students. https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/pregnancy.html

[15] Ibid.

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