The State Board of Education gave preliminary approval Wednesday, November 18, 2020, to revised health standards for public schools that amplify teaching on contraception and sexually transmitted infection prevention in younger grades, but do not include information on consent, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
During 27 hours of public testimony on the issue this year, the board has been buffeted by criticism from two sides: Some have pushed for a more comprehensive sex education curriculum, and others have said the revisions go too far. The board is slated to take a final vote Friday on any changes to the curriculum.
The state has not updated its health standards, including what Texas public school students are taught about sex, in more than two decades. Texas law requires that sex education teaching in public schools promote abstinence as the preferred behavior for unmarried students. Most of those lessons are taught at the middle and high school levels.
The proposed revisions remain focused on abstinence but include teaching seventh and eighth graders about the effectiveness, risks, and failure rates of birth control in preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, which currently isn’t taught until high school, for those who choose to take the course. Revisions also include teaching fifth graders about fertilization and sixth graders about sexual intercourse.
The board gave its first preliminary approval to the standards in September. At that time, some members pushed to amend the standards to include teaching consent and add definitions of sexual orientation and gender identity, but the board rejected those proposals. Some members said such decisions should be left to local school communities.
LGBTQ advocates told board members this week that their decision to exclude sexual orientation and gender identity from the curriculum tells students the LGBTQ community doesn’t matter. On Wednesday evening, some members again tried to include the language in portions of the middle school curriculum and high school courses that address bullying and harassment, but those amendments also were rejected.
Board member Ruben Cortez Jr. said, “We’re here, as representatives of this body, to represent the voices of every child. We’re leaving out a big segment of kids when we take these types of actions.”
Jules Mandel, outreach and advocacy coordinator for the Texas Freedom Network, a left-leaning advocacy group, told board members Tuesday that this was their last chance “to be on the right side of history and to give Texas a modern sex education curriculum, rather than keeping students trapped in the past.”