Puberty class a popular topic for discussion

By Shelby Harrell Staff Writer | Mar 18, 2014

The idea of teaching Haywood County fourth and fifth-graders about puberty has sparked plenty of conversation from school officials and parents.

During a recent work session, the Haywood County Board of Education spent about 30 minutes discussing details about puberty classes that are taught to students each year. The classes are being taught this week and will continue through the middle of April.

Ron Moss, the elementary supervisor, said during a recent school board work session the only change being implemented this year was that school teachers and staff would be teaching the courses rather than the school nurses.

According to Moss, school nurses had been teaching the classes since 2005, but almost all school districts in the state have switched to teacher-taught courses.

In Haywood, many teachers and staff members at the local schools have already been teaching the courses. As in previous years, students will be separated by gender to take the class.

The puberty course being taught in elementary school is nothing new. Moss said the course was necessary at such a young age because many children are maturing earlier than in previous years.

“Your children have a parent at home to explain things to them,” Moss told the board during the work session. “But there are students who don't have that luxury who are going to be told things that are not true and are going to worry about things happening to them.”

Bill Nolte, associate superintendent, said he previously taught puberty class to boys at Bethel Elementary School for about seven years when he was principal.

“It’s part of the standard course of study and has been in North Carolina for decades,” Nolte said. “The content has changed very little.”

In some instances, Moss said, female school counselors, vice principals and physical education teachers will be teaching the boys' class, while school teachers work with the girls.

All puberty courses will consist of a video, and diagrams will be passed out so students can visualize while they learn.

The teachers and staff who volunteered to teach the course recently participated in a puberty training session. According to Moss, the training materials had not changed over the years.

Concerns emerge

During the work session, some school board members questioned whether teachers would feel comfortable teaching puberty.

“Teachers have approached me about teaching this and were real uncomfortable with having to teach the stuff,” said board member Larry Henson. “They said they didn’t even want to read (the puberty content) to me, let alone their children.”

But Moss said no teachers were being coerced to lead the classes, and as of this year, enough members of the faculty had stepped forward.

“As long as no teachers are being coerced to teach something they don’t want to teach,” board member Bob Morris said. “Because some people can handle this better than others.”

Board member Jim Harley Francis recommended taking up the puberty materials after the course was over to prevent students in other grades from seeing it.

Puberty class has also sparked discussion from people in the community.

Amber Hyman is a nurse who believes that medical professionals should be teaching about puberty

“Kids can ask tough questions,” Hyman posted on The Mountaineer’s Facebook page. “They may be too shy to ask a teacher they know or a parent. I am a pediatric nurse and kids ask me all kids of embarrassing questions about their body that they wouldn't ask their parents. It is important to know how the body works together for you to teach and answer questions.”

But other members of the community, such as Patricia Moody, say they are thankful for puberty education in school.

“It should be the parents’ job, but the problem is that parents are not doing it,” Moody posted on Facebook. “I was raised in a home where this subject was completely taboo. I am thankful for the education I had in school. It came at the right time, and I feel it prevented myself and others from some bad decisions. I believe a nurse would be best suited for questions that will be asked.”

Opting out

It has always been an option for parents to remove their children from puberty class if they see fit.

Moss said parents were always welcome to view the course’s instructional material and discuss the goals and objectives with the teachers and administrators. However, if parents choose to excuse their children from the lesson, they must write a letter to the principal and give the reason why.

Henson questioned why parents needed to give a reason to opt out.

“It doesn’t have to be specific but we just want people to think through it and be sure,” said superintendent Anne Garrett.

Moss said there usually were several parents who opted their children out of the class so they could teach them about puberty themselves.

Leslie Turner Monday is one parent who declined the course for her children.

“I always refused to let the school teach my children any of this,” Monday said on Facebook. “I want to be the one to share these things with my children.”

Erin Caldwell Norris is also against the idea of puberty class.

“I am the parent and I will teach my child when I feel he is ready,” she wrote on Facebook. “Public education will not dictate my ability as a parent and most certainly not teach my child about this subject.”

Nolte said students would be taught about sexually transmitted diseases and abstinence as part of a Healthful Living program once they get into middle school. Parents will still be able to excuse their children and teenagers from the class.