Under the guise of “comprehensive sex education,” school boards across the state are implementing a controversial new health curriculum for high schoolers—and many districts are keeping parents in the dark.
Notably, this health course is not labeled as a sex education class but simply as the general health course offered to high school students. It’s a requirement for graduation in some school districts, although it is not required by Texas law. Meanwhile, since the course is not solely a sex education class, some of these topics such as gender identity and pregnant persons are discussed outside of the sex education section. Thus, even if parents opt out of sex education, their students will still be exposed to this rhetoric in the regular health course.
The School Health Advisory Council (SHAC), which can be found in each school district, evaluates possible health curriculums for use. Every school district in the state is required to maintain a SHAC and to include parents on the SHAC. The SHAC then makes recommendations for curriculum to the local school board, although the board is not required to follow the SHAC’s recommendations.
Last year, the Texas State Board of Education approved new state standards for health curriculums called TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills), which is the impetus for new health textbooks. The SBOE only approved one text for use—the one being pushed—but did not mandate its use in school districts across the state. Each school district may opt out of the suggested curriculum and choose its own.
Waller ISD father Josh Posey says, “Every SHAC in the entire state, right this moment, is revising their health curriculums because [there are] new TEKS.”
Dr. Audrey Young, the Texas State Board of Education member for District 8, wrote a letter to the Waller ISD school board informing them that she chose not to vote for the approval of this curriculum and that the district is not required to adopt it.
Rather, Young recommends the board “take the time to listen to the community, research additional curriculum and instructional materials, and be transparent in the choices being made.”
This health curriculum is based on a text entitled “Comprehensive Health Skills for High School” from the Goodheart-Willcox publishing company.
The text discusses various health issues, such as:
- HIV prevention (including suggesting the use of a sterile needle for medications, drugs, and tattoos)
- Receiving STI/STD testing (after discussion with a trusted adult—not a parent, per se)
- Whether parents have to be notified if a minor tests positive (text claims physicians may notify parents, suggesting parents have limited rights to a minor’s healthcare)
- Gender identity (as a core component of each individual’s identity, and the text later instructs students to discuss whether gender depictions in popular culture are “realistic for most people”)
- Sexual reproduction: the “process in which the genetic material of two individuals combines to create a new individual” according to the text (emphasis added)
- Pregnancy (where the carrier is called a “pregnant person” rather than a pregnant woman)
- “Reproductive healthcare”—often used as a codeword for abortion (students are instructed to seek out reproductive healthcare facilities in their area, research a minor’s right to consent to reproductive healthcare services, and research whether parental notification is required to obtain these services)
Furthermore, Texas Education Code 26.008(b) prohibits a teacher from encouraging a child to keep anything from their parents. Since the health textbook repeatedly claims that teachers tell children they don’t have to tell their parents, that they can talk to their doctor without a parent present, that they can go to free health clinics (for STDs), and even that teachers can drive students to appointments, it is possible that the text violates Texas law.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton recently came out strongly against Austin ISD for their curriculum and lesson plans that dealt with human sexuality without informing parents. Paxton said, “The Texas Legislature has made it clear that when it comes to sex education, parents—not school districts—are in charge.”
One of the five authors of the text is Melissa Munsell, the former instructional specialist in the Physical Education and Health Department at North East Independent School District in San Antonio.
Notably, Munsell also contributed to a 2019 study entitled “Managing Sex Education Controversy Deep in the Heart of Texas: A Case Study of the North East Independent School District (NEISD).”
The conclusion of the study states, “Controversy surrounding sex education is nothing new in the USA, especially in the traditionally more conservative South. In many contexts, CSE [Comprehensive Sex Education] is about politics just as much as it is about science.”
The author of the study, David Wiley, is a former professor of Health Education at Texas State University, who was fired following the conclusion of four investigations for accusations of sexual misconduct.
Their study pushes for comprehensive sex education and instructs school administrators on how to navigate parental and community backlash.
“Given this, the lessons learned on the strategies employed by opponents in the NEISD and the response used by the school district officials to successfully navigate the backlash can inform planning and decision making in other school settings in the USA and around the world,” reads the study’s final sentence.
Waller ISD: A Case Study
Parents in Waller ISD have been fighting their local school board over several issues that districts across the state are facing, including obscene library books, mask mandates, and critical race theory in the classroom.
As Josh Posey and his wife became involved in the district SHAC, they discovered a bureaucratic body rubber-stamping curriculum and very few parents included amid a sea of school employees.
“We went through it page by page and actually read the material because that’s what we thought our responsibility was as parents involved on the SHAC,” said Posey.
But Posey added, “The meeting came around and my wife was prepared to make her presentation in dissent of this curriculum—except the meeting took 13 minutes.”
According to Posey, “[The meeting] was attended by 29 staff members and four possible parents that were not on the staff.”
The SHAC then moved for a vote on the curriculum without even allowing anyone to verbally dissent to the curriculum. The final vote was 32-1, with Mrs. Posey as the sole dissenter.
Posey got the school district and the SHAC overseer to meet with him about the manner in which the vote occurred.
“We’re here to help,” he told them. “We think you should know that in Florida, they just threw out an entire curriculum because two years prior, a committee that selected that curriculum did not follow the Open Meetings Act. And I said I would hate to see that tested here in Texas, in Waller [ISD]. Because, by our count, we’re out of compliance with the law in at least seven areas.”
Posey says, “If you use the words out of compliance in a school district, that’s a four-letter word. You can threaten somebody, you can say you’re mad [and] you’re gonna get an attorney, you can point out the code that they’re violating, and nobody cares. They just roll their eyes. When you tell them they’re out of compliance, everybody snaps to attention.”
Sure enough, two days later, the board told Posey they would not be recommending the curriculum based on the SHAC vote and they would get the SHAC into compliance with regulations.
There was a school board meeting following this incident.
“I was at the meeting. I spoke at the meeting,” said Posey.
“I highlighted what was in the curriculum, and then the board voted without ever listing who was on the committee. In fact, the entire board meeting was voted on as a consent agenda. And that included budget amendments, requests for spending, another committee that was approved with membership … but we don’t have dollar values. We don’t have details. We don’t know who’s on these committees. We don’t know what the resolution was that was extended for the SHAC. It’s all hidden. And with one vote, they approved everything.”
The SHAC met on May 16, where Posey says “they introduced the curriculum and passed out the credentials to login and review it … and asked everybody to review an 850-page health book, plus the auxiliary paperwork that comes with it and the extra workbook, plus a junior high and elementary curriculum all in two weeks.”
The SHAC will meet again on June 9 to conclude their review and vote on the curriculum.
Posey says, “If it is approved, if they pass it, it’ll get passed over to the June 13th school board meeting, where the board will consider it for a month and then vote on it in July.”
“Sounds to me like a rubber stamp,” Posey claims. “They’re just checking boxes, not actually having people audit the material, which is why it was important that we stand up at the school board meeting and highlight exactly what’s in this thing.”
This curriculum is being voted on by SHACs across the state.
Concerned citizens can contact their local SHAC for more information, as well as their school board, to register their concerns with the curriculum.