Sex education in Texas public schools?and across the nation?has been a flashpoint of controversy. But Texas parents can avoid the angst associated with the subject matter by asking questions, reading curricula, and serving on a state-mandated local advisory board with direct influence over the content of health instruction in their school district.
A primer on sex education vocabulary could be helpful. School districts have two options for sex education curricula in Texas if they choose to teach it: abstinence-only or abstinence-plus. Parents can choose to “opt-out” their student. And those same parents should inquire as to whether or not their school district has a Local School Health Advisory Council as mandated by the Texas Education Code.
The consensus is that school districts are not legally required to teach sex education. Texas Eagle Forum stated in a newsletter last spring that it is not required, raising the ire of some. But an attorney with the Texas Education Agency, citing previous interpretations, stated as much in published reports when questioned about it. A spokesman for the TEA confirmed the attorney’s comments to the TEXAN, admitting there is some confusion on the issue.
According to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) standards drafted by the State Board of Education, high school students should be taught specific elements of human sexuality and reproduction. Under “knowledge and skills,” students should be able to “discuss abstinence from sexual activity as the only method that is 100% effective in preventing pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and the sexual transmission of HIV or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, and the emotional trauma associated with adolescent sexual activity.” (For a comprehensive review of the subject matter go to ritter.tea.state.tx.us/rules/tac/chapter115/index.html.)
But the Texas Education Code, section 28.004, states that parents must receive written notice “regarding whether the district” will teach sex education. “If instruction will be provided,” the notice to parents must include content details and an enumeration of parents’ legal rights, including the right to review curriculum materials.
Whatever the case, the state Legislature has not mandated an abstinence-only curriculum, but according to Gail Lowe, a seven-year member of the State Board of Education (SBOE), “We believe the state Legislature has been clear that abstinence-only is the best way.”
The TEKS drawn up by the SBOE reflect that directive.
What is clearly mandated is the appointment of a local health advisory council of parents and community leaders. With the council’s input, districts may customize a curriculum? within the guidelines of the TEKS?that best suits their communities, emphasizing health issues stressed by them. Lowe suspects there are districts that do not have an advisory council in place and parents should inquire as to how to get one established.
A council may recommend the abstinence?only or abstinence-plus curriculum. In abstinence-plus, abstinence is to be taught as a best option but the literature could be supplemented with a wide range of material?from merely incorporating contraceptive and “safe sex” information into the program, to instruction about deviant sexual lifestyles and same-sex marriage.
Some of the earliest sex education curricula were written by Planned Parenthood, said Janice Crouse, senior fellow at the Beverly LaHaye Institute, the think tank for Concerned Women for America. Crouse, a former speechwriter for President George H. Bush, writes extensively about human rights, sex trafficking, and national and international cultural issues that concern women and children. Her latest book, “Children at Risk,” was published early this year.
Crouse said as the instructional agenda of Planned Parenthood, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SEICUS), and NARAL Pro-Choice America came to light, parents balked at what was being taught in the classroom under the guise of sex education.
“Parents gradually became aware that what their children were being taught wasn’t what they wanted them being taught,” Crouse said. Instead of an abstinence-is-best policy the curriculum portrayed sex more as a physical function and instructed students how to have “safe sex.” By comparison abstinence was given a cursory mention.
Crouse said in health classes students were instructed to avoid the harmful vices of smoking, alcohol and drug use but were not being deterred from sexual activity, which can cause any number of sexually transmitted diseases, out-of-wedlock pregnancies, and emotional distress.
Advocates of abstinence-only sex education responded with the creation of curricula that, as it has been retooled over the years, has proven effective in delaying sex and curtailing such activity in those already sexually experienced. A study released in February and published in the American Medical Association’s Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine stated: “Theory-based abstinence-only interventions may have an important role in preventing adolescent sexual involvement.”
The study concluded that two-thirds of the students introduced to an abstinence-only curriculum had not initiated sexual activity after a two-year follow-up. But half of the students who received generalized health instruction were sexually active after the same time period.
School districts can create their own curriculum or use any number of sex education programs developed independently. The Heritage Foundation in 2008 released a comprehensive review of the top abstinence-only education curricula available to school districts across the nation. The study cited the growing efficacy of such programs and stymied, to a degree, criticism from the proponents of comprehensive sex education such as SIECUS.
Crouse said the pro-abortion and pro-comprehensive sex education lobbies cite older curricula when making claims that abstinence-only education is ineffective at preventing sexual encounters among teens.
She said abstinence