Originally created 09/12/98

Schools begin investigation of comments



Richmond County School officials expect by Thursday to complete a report that investigates whether an assistant principal at Hephzibah Middle School used inappropriate language when describing sexual harassment to sixth- and seventh-graders during an orientation the first week of school.

Superintendent Charles Larke ordered an investigation of Charlotte Sudderth because of numerous complaints from parents and teachers.

Ms. Sudderth allegedly used language that made students and teachers gasp when describing the type of behavior that constitutes sexual harassment.

She would not comment on the allegations and still is working at the school as the investigation continues.

"It's a personnel matter, so it can't be discussed," Ms. Sudderth said.

Dr. Larke said the issues on addressing such topics are spelled out in the Family Dynamics curriculum.

Sex education has been a state-required policy since 1993. The Georgia Department of Education says local school districts must emphasize abstinence and involve parents.

The state says AIDS education can begin in the sixth grade, and students from sixth to 12th grades will be taught to identify methods to prevent communicable and sexually transmitted diseases.

Parents who do not want the school to discuss sex-related topics with their children can send a written note to school officials.

Several parents expressed outrage about the alleged language but refused to be quoted for fear of retaliation against their children.

Dr. Larke said he heard the specifics and is questioning teachers and other principals at the school.

"It's not common for teachers and parents to call and describe the type of language that was described to me," Dr. Larke said, "that's why I ordered the investigation."

Joe Moore, Richmond County's coordinator of science, health and physical education, said teachers and principals are trained to discuss the topics with students.

When they feel uncomfortable, they can bring in a speaker from the Health Department or use a variety of approved videos, he said.

"There is a prescribed curriculum in Family Dynamics that is age- and grade-appropriate," Mr. Moore said. "You can discuss anything in an appropriate manner. The bottom line is not to deviate from the curriculum.

"Don't say anything you wouldn't mind having the child discuss with its parents," Mr. Moore said. "If a student asks a question that goes beyond the curriculum they should be told to ask their parents when they get home."

Dr. Larke said a variety of actions can take place after the investigation.

"We could recommend a letter of termination or it could clear the person of any wrongdoing," he said.

Class topics

Here is a list of topics taught to Richmond County Students through Family Dynamics classes:

Kindergarten:

Growing up, communication, personal safety, handling emergencies

Second grade:

Listening, how bodies change, differences in families

Fourth grade:

Peer pressure, hygiene and nutrition, male and female roles in society

Sixth grade:

Boy-girl relationships, substance abuse, shoplifting

Eighth grade:

Human sexuality, self-control, pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases

Ninth-12th grades:

Stress, depression and suicide, drugs, teen pregnancy, self-esteem