After marathon sessions of public testimony that capped a months-long journey of relentless revision, the final vote was 15-0 to approve the Health Education Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS).
“This was an incredibly heavy lift,” SBOE Chair Keven Ellis (R-District 9) said.
Most of the conflict took place while members of the board proposed amendments to the body throughout the week. A number of motions to include comprehensive sex education failed by split margins.
Marisa B. Perez-Diaz (D-District 3) unsuccessfully motioned to include standards to describe differences in gender expectations and “normative behaviors.”
“I thought that adding language just to explore gender expectations … would be a value add in this conversation for mental health and wellness, especially for those youth who are struggling,” Perez-Diaz said.
“What I want to address are traditional gender expectations. … When perhaps they don’t identify one gender or the other.”
While the board rejected calls for the inclusion of LGBT terminology and gender identity education, the initial proposed TEKS by no means made it through the week unchanged. Donna Bahorich (R-District 6) led the charge to slash unnecessary or outlying standards from the TEKS.
“I’m all about deleting stuff,” Bahorich laughed over seven hours into the meeting.
When not motivated by ideological reasons, most efforts to delete standards from the TEKS sprang from a guiding principle of vertical alignment — meant to organize the TEKS from kindergarten to graduation around a scaffolding structure in which standards for each grade lead into gradually more detailed counterparts in the next grade.
Standards that stand alone, without connection to the grades below or above, often got the boot. Bahorich moved successfully to push the standard that requires students to define differences between friendship, dating, marriage, and romance up from the 5th grade to the 6th grade.
“The way we have it now, we’ve got four years of discussing types of relationships. I’m condensing it to two,” Bahorich said.
“Particularly the word ‘casual,’” in the TEKS, she added, “is problematic because of its current understanding.”
Perez-Diaz questioned the move, arguing that the standard should be taught beginning in the 5th grade.
“I feel like the language as-is is appropriate because … it’s the beginning of adolescence, and I feel like understanding the differences of these relationships is really important early on.”
Ruben Cortez, Jr. (D-District 2) motioned unsuccessfully to insert a standard about gender identity bullying in the extant bullying TEKS, specifically “including bullying and harassment because of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.”
The motion sparked a lengthy argument ending with Perez-Diaz and Aicha Davis (D-District 13) siding with Cortez against a majority vote.
Technical difficulties at the closed meeting meant that board members’ specific votes did not always show on screen.
Additions to the TEKS largely focus on the risks of adolescent sex and the benefits of marriage and abstinence. Whereas the current TEKS are largely mum on sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and other risks, the SBOE’s content advisors for the Health TEKS — mostly physicians — successfully argued for the inclusion and description of STDs and other sexual risks in detail.
Students also are expected to learn about puberty changes, the menstrual cycle, fertilization, and fetal development in greater factual detail. Aside from simple sexual facts, the TEKS advise students against risky behavior online and in relationships.
The new TEKS will reach classrooms in 2022.
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