I grew up listening to Paul Harvey host his daily radio program “The Rest of the Story.” Mr. Harvey was known for sharing untold stories of often-misunderstood events in U.S. history. I am compelled here to do the same, following the November 20 final vote on sex education in Texas.
National sex education eyes have been on Texas. In September 2019, SIECUS, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, a nonprofit founded in 1964 by the medical director of the Planned Parenthood Federation with funding from the founder of Playboy magazine, held a press conference on the steps of Texas’ Capitol building in Austin. Joining forces with Texas Freedom Network, “the state’s watchdog on far-right issues,” SIECUS announced it was time “to demand a change.” They called the newly begun review of the 1998 sex ed standards a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to change course” from Texas’ long-standing commitment to abstinence-focused education. A blog post on the SIECUS website proclaims, “This could be a big year for sex ed in Texas.”
SIECUS knows that what happens in Texas surrounding the updating of the Health Education TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) will have national implications for sex education—including not just what is taught, but what is bought, as national health textbook development and sales are often driven by the large Texas market. Many also contend that money from reproductive services, especially abortion, encouraged by comprehensive sex education, drives the focus on Texas.
Much of the story of the three-year review and revision directed by the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) has been untold or “mis-told.” A New York Times headline on Friday read, “Texas Board Revises Sex Education Standards to Include More Birth Control.” Particularly interesting are these headlines about added information on birth control and contraception, which have not been a significant source of debate from the public nor the SBOE.
Contraception “effectiveness and ineffectiveness” were included previously in the high school level of health in the 1998 TEKS. A single standard on contraception was added this year to seventh and eighth grade, just one of 120 standards at this level. The standard states, “Analyze the effectiveness and the risks and failure rates (human-use reality rates) of condoms and other contraceptive methods in the prevention of STDs/STIs and pregnancy.” The updated High School I and II standards include similar phrasing. These standards do not promote contraception use, as many have asserted, but rather guide teachers to give accurate information about contraception.
The in-depth process of updating the Health Ed TEKS came down to essentially two issues at last month’s final vote: “consent education” and “inclusive” education for LGBTQ students.
National sex education curriculum providers define consent as when “both people are willing to engage in sexual behavior.” “Consent” education is therefore in direct conflict with the Texas Education Code, which requires the emphasis to be on avoiding sexual activity before marriage. The approved Health Ed TEKS include comprehensive content on refusal skills, boundary setting, healthy relationships, and the prevention of dating violence and sexual abuse.
With regards to LGBTQ information, data is limited as to how many Texas children currently identify by these terms. The Centers for Disease Control Youth Risk Behavior Survey 2019 results showed 2.8 percent of Texas high school students identifying as “gay or lesbian” and 7.9 percent identifying as “bisexual.” The CDC states the health risks of STDs and pregnancy are higher among teens who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, which supports the sexual risk avoidance approach written in the new standards for all students.
Extensive public testimony and amendments from two state board members also highlighted the mental health risks for LGBTQ students. The approved TEKS on bullying prevention, mental health, and healthy relationships address these concerns for all students. They do not provide differentiated instruction as many have called for, which can add confusion, especially in elementary classrooms.
Others contend that identifying “different” groups of students would need to go beyond sexual orientation and gender identity to also include different ethnicity, religion, and family status.
For over 50 years, a national battle has waged over sex education in schools. In Texas, to some degree, that battle has been fought in other places. This year the battle came to Texas, and the result has become a set of sex education standards that other states can emulate.
The new Texas standards are not “abstinence-plus,” as the term has been most often defined, nor are they “abstinence-only”, as that term has been most often defined. The new standards uphold an abstinence-focused approach as they have for the past 22 years. The federal government calls this “sexual risk avoidance” for good reason, as the clear message is to help all students avoid the physical, mental, and relational risks of early sexual activity.
These standards are medically accurate, age-appropriate, evidence-informed, and culturally relevant. They are not based on politics, morals, or religion but rather uphold a science-based public health approach to primary prevention for all students.
These new standards include all school-aged children, no matter their socioeconomic or family status, their sexual orientation or gender identity, or their past sexual experiences, whether chosen or forced upon them.
The Texas State Board of Education’s work culminated Friday afternoon with a unanimous vote to approve new standards for sex education that will promote optimal health for all children in Texas (and beyond) for many years to come.
With that, then, as Paul Harvey would pause and say, “And now you know … the rest of the story. Good day!”
This is a commentary republished with the author’s permission. If you wish to submit a commentary to Texas Scorecard, please submit your article to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This commentary has been updated since publication.