For the first time since 1998, the SBOE will vote on changes to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), a chunk of the Texas Administrative Code that details learning standards for Texas students, for the section on Health Education.
The new proposed TEKS tend to follow an abstinence-plus curriculum, teaching the benefits of abstinence and healthy marriages while also giving students the facts about sexually transmitted diseases (STD)and other risks. The proposed standards also highlight the dangers of pornography and human trafficking.
The current elementary TEKS make minimal mention of sex, only requiring children to “identify types of abuse such as physical, emotional, and sexual and know ways to seek help from a parent and/or trusted adult” from the fourth grade onward.
The proposed TEKS would also begin sexual education in the fourth grade, requiring students to learn about body changes and their causes. Fourth-grade expectations include the ability to explain puberty changes and define the menstrual cycle.
The fifth-grade TEKS move on to relationship education, expecting students to understand healthy romantic relationships. Students must “define and distinguish between friendship, infatuation, dating/romantic relationships and marriage.” The TEKS for the fifth grade emphasize refusal skills — a hot-button issue at previous meetings with many testifiers pressing for more explicit language of consent — to help students understand “how to set and respect personal boundaries to reduce the risk of sexual abuse and harassment.” Students also continue to gain a scientific understanding of changes caused by puberty.
The current middle school TEKS require students to begin learning about STDs in the sixth grade, though only as a footnote to teaching about substance abuse. Students also learn the consequences of sexual activity and the benefits of abstinence. Students continue to learn “strategies for prevention and intervention” of sexual abuse. In the seventh and eighth grades, students learn about HIV and other STDs in greater factual detail and “discuss the legal implications regarding sexual activity as it relates to minor persons.” The curriculum also begins to encourage abstinence at these grade levels.
The proposed TEKS for sixth graders would teach children to “resist inappropriate digital and online communication” including sexting and pornography and learn how sex traffickers use the internet to recruit or manipulate potential victims. Students also begin learning the risks of sexual activity and that “abstinence from sexual activity is the only 100% effective method to avoid risks.” The risks that students learn about include STDs, teen pregnancy, the “emotional risks associated with sexual activity between unmarried persons of school age,” and legal consequences. The curriculum also adds that “healthy marriages can contribute to healthy families and communities.”
While the proposed curriculum requires an understanding of the fertilization process, seventh and eighth graders are the first to “identify how the process of fertilization occurs between a man and a woman through sexual intercourse.” The proposal continues to encourage balanced and respectful romantic relationships and teach the benefits of healthy marriages. The term “right to consent” first appears here. The understanding of sexual crimes also continues.
The current high school Health TEKS teach the legal repercussions of sex as a minor and encourage abstinence as a safeguard against disease, harassment, emotional trauma, and other consequences. Students learn the interrelated nature of substance abuse and STDs.
Since the TEKS are cumulative, the proposed high school curriculum includes all previous warnings against pornography, STDs, trauma, and trafficking on top of new material. Unlike the current TEKS, the proposed TEKS name a number of common STDs and modes of transmission and requires students to describe their signs and symptoms. The curriculum continues to encourage abstinence and teach the benefits of marriage. Studies of the birth cycle also include new standards for understanding emotional shifts during pregnancy, postpartum depression, and how heredity, environment, and the mother’s health and nutrition affect fetal development.
Sex education has remained the most contested part of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for Health Education. Sparks flew at a September SBOE meeting when calls for comprehensive sex education to include abortion, gender identity education, and materials for LGBT students dominated citizen testimony.
Comprehensive sex education to include abortion, gender identity education, and materials for LGBT students were beyond the pale for the Health TEKS content advisors, a group of physicians and education specialists convened to give input on new changes. The advisors steered the focus of the proposed TEKS towards teaching refusal skills, the dangers of unmarried sex as a minor, and the pitfalls of trafficking and abuse.
The September meeting also saw a number of testifiers ask the SBOE to include social justice as both a term and guiding theme in the Science TEKS, which the board rejected.
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