School districts navigate law, public opinion in teaching sex ed

(Stock photo)
(Stock photo)

TEXARKANA, Texas -- The evolution of sex education in Texas has come with occasional labor pains.

In the 1990s, health textbooks that covered sex education were called inappropriate and calls came for them to be changed. Later, then-Gov. George Bush signed a charter pressing school districts to prioritize teaching abstinence until marriage.

In the late 2000s, health class was removed altogether from state requirements to graduate. The 2020s brought parents into the mix, with Texas requiring parental consent before a student is taught about family violence, child abuse, sex trafficking or human sexuality.

Now, two bills that would ban classroom instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools before certain grade levels are being considered by the state Legislature.

Liberty-Eylau Independent School District's communications coordinator Earl Gill said the district offers a comprehensive health education curriculum that complies with state law, the school's board policy and the School Health Advisory Council.

"The SHAC is comprised of parents and community members to ensure that local community values are reflected in our district's health education curriculum. As outlined by state guidance, the parent of a health education student receives written notice of board curriculum decisions such that a parent may make an informed decision for their student on whether to provide instruction relating to human sexuality," Gill said.

Parents must provide written consent for their child to be taught human sexuality, he said.

Gill said students in grades four to seven receive health education instruction through their physical education teacher and eighth-graders can take health education as a standalone course taught by a class instructor, said Farishn Tatum, L-EISD's director of curriculum and instruction.

"Our students receive (lessons on) refusal skills and how to set personal boundaries and how to practice refusal skills concerning your personal space," Tatum said.

Gill said the middle school health courses follow state requirements, which present abstinence as the preferred choice of behavior for unmarried persons of age. State standards also describe abstinence as the only method to prevent pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, HIV or AIDS and emotional trauma associated with adolescent sexual activity.

State requirements also note that instruction on contraception and condoms should focus on the realities of using the measures -- such as a condom breaking -- instead of the ideal usage.

Pleasant Grove Independent School District's Director of Marketing Haley Turner said the district does not offer sex education.

Tina Veal-Gooch, Redwater Independent School District's executive director of public relations, said the district follows the state's minimum requirements for human sexuality education.

"Although health education is no longer required for graduation at the high school level, Redwater ISD provides instruction in ninth grade, which continues the district's goal to develop healthy decision making and promote the benefits of abstinence," Veal-Gooch said.

Veal-Gooch said parental consent is required yearly for students to be able to participate in health lessons that include human sexuality instruction.

"Redwater ISD's mission is to provide a superior education with traditional values," said Lee Ann Corbin, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

Corbin said the district's stance is that parents or legal guardians be the primary source of information on human sexuality for their children.

Gooch said the district uses the elementary physical education and health program Quaver for health courses for kindergarten to fourth grade.

"Parent consent is required for some health lessons in grades one to four, but not because they are sex ed lessons. They are lessons required by Senate Bill 9, which requires schools to adopt curriculum to related to the prevention of child abuse, family violence, dating violence and sex trafficking," Gooch said.

Veal-Gooch said RISD's SHAC adopted the ESTEEM curriculum.

ESTEEM stands for Encouraging Students to Embrace Excellent Marriage. According to ESTEEM's website, the curriculum is to encourage students to avoid sexual risks by presenting enough facts to decide to wait to have sex until marriage.

"Based on the SHAC recommendation, the Board of Trustees adopted the curriculum for use in grades five to eight. The 2021-22 SHAC recommended that ESTEEM continue and be added to the ninth grade. This recommendation and continuation of ESTEEM was approved by the Redwater ISD Board of Trustees on May 2022," Veal-Gooch said.

The human sexuality curriculum at RISD is taught by classroom teachers, nurses, campus administrators and counselors. Parents must opt-in for their children to participate.

Texarkana Independent School District's Director of Communications Todd Marshall said the school district provides the state-required lessons on health and physical education.

"Parents will receive annual notification about any instruction related to human sexuality or other sensitive topics. Before any student receives instruction in human sexuality, child abuse, family violence, dating violence and sex trafficking, written consent from the student's parent will be obtained," Marshall said.

He said parents are notified at least two weeks before instruction is planned.

"The curriculum will be addressed through physical education and health education classes as appropriate. More sensitive opt-in topics regarding human sexuality will be taught by counselors and or nurse/health aides for those students whose parents submit written consent. Sensitive topics requiring opt-in are removed from the students' curriculum materials before receiving their books, and instruction related to these topics will not be addressed in the main classroom," Marshall said.

Marshall said parents are able to review, receive a copy of or purchase a copy of human sexuality curriculum materials from the district, in accordance with state law.

Hooks Independent School District Superintendent Keith Minter and DeKalb Independent School District Superintendent Chris Galloway did not provide comment in time for publication.

New Boston Independent School District Superintendent Brian Bobbitt declined to comment pending consultation with the district nurse.

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