Who won the battle over sex ed in Texas?

Nov 23, 2020 by

Lori Kuykendall (USA) - 2020 Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation Online  Global Summit by National Center on Sexual Exploitation

By Lori Kuykendall, President and CEO, Medical Institute for Sexual Health, a national organization based in Dallas providing research, education and leadership with the vision “to advance wholeness by empowering optimal sexual health.”

lkuykendall@medinstitute.org; 5999 Summerside Dr., Suite 116, Dallas, TX 75252. Office 512-328-6268

It has been 14 months since the battle lines were drawn over sex education in Texas. A national debate spanning five decades come to Texas soil last September when SIECUS (Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, a national nonprofit whose slogan is “Sex ed for social change”) and Texas Freedom Network (“the state’s watchdog on far-right issues”) held a press conference on the Capitol steps in Austin. Together they announced it was time “to demand a change.”

For the first time in 22 years, the State Board of Education (SBOE) had directed the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to begin a review and update of the Health Education TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills), which include Reproductive and Sexual Health. SIECUS and TFN proclaimed this a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to change course” from Texas’ long-standing commitment to abstinence-focused education.

An August 2019 SIECUS blog post announced, “This could be a big year for sex ed in Texas.” Indeed, it has been.

The extensive revision process was a tremendous investment of time and resources by many people. All came to its conclusion Friday afternoon, when the final version of the Health Ed TEKS were approved by the SBOE with a unanimous 15-0 vote.

So, what was the outcome? Who won?

If you did not watch the proceedings this week and are just reading the headlines, it may be hard to tell.

The Dallas Morning News Thursday headline read “Teaching non-abstinence birth control gets preliminary OK from Texas ed board, but does not include gender identity, sexual orientation.” The term “non-abstinence birth control” is not found anywhere in the TEKS, nor was it used in any of the public testimonies or SBOE deliberation. (Google cannot even find it.)

The Texan headline read “Abstinence-plus Sex Ed Curriculum Approved by State Board of Education.” The Health Ed TEKS are not curriculum; they are education standards around which school districts are to base their curriculum. The Texas Education Code requires all curriculum on human sexuality instruction to be selected and approved by local school boards. Texas Freedom Network, the “Texas is Ready” coalition, and hundreds of testimonies calling for the term “abstinence-plus” to include instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as education on consent. Neither were included in the standards approved by the SBOE Friday.

A Texas Tribune headline reposted through other media outlets read, “Texas education board approves new sex ed policy that does not cover LGBTQ students or consent.” The terminology “does not cover” implies LGBTQ students will be excluded from the instruction, but that is not the case with the new standards.

A Texas Scorecard headline read, “Texas Sex Ed Curriculum Takes a Right Turn, Heads to Final Vote.” Again, TEKS are not curriculum, and the phrase “takes a right turn” implies that the TEKS were headed in a politically “left” direction. The SBOE members would agree this also was not the case.

So, what was the outcome? Many significant improvements were made in this version of the Health Education TEKS by the hardworking SBOE. A summary of the three most talked-about issues is provided here.

With regards to contraception: Contraception “effectiveness and ineffectiveness” were included previously in the high school level of health in the 1998 TEKS. A single standard on contraception was added this year to 7th and 8th grade, just one of 120 standards at this level. The standard states, “Analyze the effectiveness and the risks and failure rates (human-use reality rates) of condoms and other contraceptive methods in the prevention of STDs/STIs and pregnancy.” The updated High School I and II standards include similar phrasing. These standards do not promote contraception use, as some have asserted, but rather they guide teachers to give accurate information about contraception.

With regards to consent education: There is widespread confusion over education on consent, which national curriculum providers define as “both people are willing to engage in sexual behavior.” A simple search leads to classroom videos and role play activities that teach students to negotiate their preferences for sexual behavior. The dictionary definition of consent is “to give assent or approval.” Therefore, “consent” education directly conflicts with the Texas Education Code which requires the emphasis to be on avoiding sexual activity before marriage. The approved Health Ed TEKS include comprehensive content on refusal skills, boundary setting, healthy relationships, and the prevention of dating violence and sexual abuse.

With regards to LGBTQ “inclusion”: Data is limited as to how many Texas children currently identify by these terms. The Centers for Disease Control Youth Risk Behavior Survey 2019results showed 2.8% of Texas high school students identifying as “gay or lesbian” and 7.9% identifying as “bisexual.” According to the CDC, health risks of STDs and pregnancy are higher among teens who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual which supports the sexual risk avoidance approach written in the new standards for all students. Extensive public testimony and amendments from two State Board members also highlighted the mental health risks for LGBTQ students. The approved TEKS on bullying prevention, mental health, and healthy relationships address these concerns for all students. They do not provide differentiated instruction as many have called for, which can add confusion especially in elementary classrooms. Others contend that identifying “different” groups of students would need to go beyond sexual orientation and gender identity to also include different ethnicity, religion, and family status.

The new Health Education TEKS present a comprehensive set of educationally sound knowledge and skills to provide school children with the guidance and support needed to make the healthiest decisions for their current and future health. They are medically accurate, age appropriate, relevant, and desperately needed in a world where culture, technology, and peer pressure continually send dangerous messages that put young lives at risk.

So, who won the battle over sex ed in Texas? The 5.5 million children in Texas public schools and the children who will follow after them won.

For that we adults who love and care for them can all be glad. Great appreciation is due the State Board of Education.

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