Date of Conferral





Public Policy and Administration


Hilda Shepeard


The United States has the highest rates of teenage pregnancies, births, abortions, and sexually transmitted infections in the industrialized world. African American teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections are on the rise in many rural southwest school districts in the State of Georgia where the sex education curriculum is nonexistent or solely focuses on abstinence. Georgia ranked 4th in cases of primary and secondary syphilis, 6th in AIDS, 12th in gonorrhea, 14th in teen pregnancies, and 17th in chlamydia in the United States in 2012. The purpose of this qualitative study was to evaluate the perceptions of residents of a primarily African American rural southwest Georgia community regarding the importance of sex education and their knowledge of the school district's sex education curriculum. It specifically investigated abstinence-only sexual education using Bronfenbrenner's ecological learning theory. Study participants (n = 25) were African American youths in 9th grade, their parents, school officials, religious leaders, policymakers, and health advocates. The research questions were designed to investigate participants' knowledge of sexual health and effective sex education curricula for their school district. Data were collected from the participants via semi-structured interviews. MAXQDA 11.1 software was used for thematic analysis of transcribed interviews. The findings demonstrated community support for a comprehensive sex education curriculum and the need for a new paradigm in social policy that suggests initiatives should be evidence-based to achieve maximum efficacy in policy analysis. The study provides a baseline for school officials to assess community opinions regarding the acceptance of a comprehensive sex education curriculum.