Gathered in boxes on a video screen before the board in the William B. Travis building yesterday, the committee of advisors who worked on the sexual education section of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for students (TEKS) agreed on an abstinence-plus curriculum with a majority of members calling for revisions to when and how children are taught about consent in health education.
After the presentation of the advisors, public testimonies largely either called for the inclusion of LGBT materials and abortion information in the TEKS or raised concerns about the abstinence-plus approach.
The content advisors of the committee, which includes medical doctors and education professionals, sparred between each other and with the board over how detailed the descriptions of sex should be in classrooms. While all the advisors who opined on consent agreed that it should be taught only after students are of legal age, medical doctor Jack Lesch said that the curriculum should include precise descriptions of sex acts to best educate students on STDs.
“I know it’s hard to hear those words… but I think it’s vitally important that all those modes of transmission are talked about,” Lesch told board member Pam Little (R-Fairview).
Fellow content advisor and Austin OB-GYN Mikael Love echoed Lesch, saying that such concepts are familiar to many of his young patients.
“It may seem [foreign] to us as adults, but again from my background of dealing with early teenage pregnancies, people talk about this frequently,” Love said.
Board members Ken Mercer (R-San Antonio) and Little expressed reluctance with explicit descriptions in the curriculum.
Love and Lesch were in accord that discussions of consent should be delayed to late high school, along with Tomball physician Linda Flower, psychotherapist Flip Flippen, and education professionals Dawn Riley and Feyi Obamehinti.
Lesch also said that the term “committed relationships” should be removed, calling for the curriculum to “just uphold marriage.” In place of teaching consent, advisors preferred teaching refusal tactics to children as a defense against child predators.
When prompted by Mercer, all present content advisors agreed in calling abstinence a “lifestyle” and “not a contraceptive method.”
“I would agree,” Obamehinti said. “The whole education TEKS is about promoting healthy behaviors in their life, not just in the school.”
Calls for LGBT inclusion dominated public testimonies
Confusion reigned over the meeting among citizen testimonies, with testifiers who called for more comprehensive sex education both supporting and criticizing the proposed TEKS. One program manager at Jane’s Due Process, an advocacy group that aids minors in accessing abortion, called the proposed TEKS not comprehensive enough.
“The teens that I support… need a comprehensive sex education in their curriculum, for when they don’t have family structures that can support them,” she said. “While the parents are the first and foremost educators on sex education, we know that teens do not always have that.”
Medical student Pratyusha Pilla praised the proposal for making strides in subjects like consent.
“Consent is complexed and nuanced,” Pilla said. “It isn’t just for healthcare providers to learn… It is a universally important concept.”
Most critics, such as Austin ISD student health committee chair Cynthia Soliz, took the TEKS to task for not including abortion materials or sex education tailored for LGBT students, such as gender identity education.
“I see two glaring omissions: the inclusion of other than heteronormative sex relationships, and a scientific explanation for abortion,” Soliz said. “I have it on good authority that male-female sex is not the only kind that occurs.”
Eighth-grade science teacher Geoffrey Carlisle also pushed for LGBT inclusion in the TEKS, saying that it can help normalize gay relationships to children.
“I plead with you to recognize the humanity of my LGBTQIA students,” Carlisle said. “[These] standards are moral documents that reflect the values we seek to instill in our children.”
Other testifiers pushed back against the abstinence-plus TEKS from legal standpoints, with District 9 resident and credentialed sex education professional Christy Baca saying that simple abstinence education is the preferred choice of Texas schools and that the language of consent in the TEKS conflicts with Texas Education Code.
“Teens can and still do choose abstinence,” Baca insisted. “Teaching refusal skills is optimal.”
District 10 resident Deborah Simmons feared that adoption of the new TEKS could steamroll the abstinence-only curricula taught at some local districts.
“By adopting student expectations for the reproductive and sexual health strand, the SBOE would abolish local control and mandate the contents and grade levels of human sexuality instruction that best be taught in every school district in the state of Texas,” Simmons said. “Adoption of contraception-related student expectations would abolish abstinence-only curricula in the state of Texas.”
At the elementary level, the current TEKS only make mention of sex in subchapter §115.6 Health Education, Grade 4, which requires the ability to “identify types of abuse such as physical, emotional, and sexual and know ways to seek help from a parent and/or trusted adult.”
The middle school TEKS, part of 19 Texas Administrative Code (TAC), Chapter 115, primarily requires knowledge of the legal implications of underage sex, the health dangers involved, and the encouragement of abstinence.
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