In case you missed it, the State Board of Education late last month approved a new set of health curriculum standards, which cover sex education, for Texas public schools. It was the first time in a generation the SBOE has revised the state’s outdated standards.
So what happened? Here are five big takeaways from the year-long debate and TFN’s campaign for better sex education in Texas.
The new health standards cover birth control and the prevention of sexually transmitted infections. This Dallas Morning News editorial argued that the board finally moved Texas into the 21st century by turning away from a failed abstinence-only approach and promoting instruction about contraception and disease prevention for middle school and high school students: “The bottom line is that teenagers need accurate information so they can make knowledgeable decisions. Having the state board expand sex education guidelines is a step in the right direction.” The New York Times noted this big step forward in Texas could also have national implications for sex education. This change represents a major victory in TFN’s years-long campaign to move Texas forward.
Texas is still failing LGBTQ students. The important progress on contraception and STI-prevention wasn’t matched when it came to addressing the needs of LGBTQ students. In a series of maddening and heartbreaking votes, the SBOE’s religious-right members rejected every effort to include coverage of sexual orientation and gender identity in the standards. TFN President Val Benavidez called out those who insisted that teaching this information was somehow too sensitive in the 21st century: “Arguing that it’s controversial simply to acknowledge LGBTQ people exist and deserve to be treated with respect just like everyone else is pretty damning.”
Social conservatives reject teaching about consent. Even in the “Me Too” era, Republican SBOE members still don’t understand consent. Abstinence-only pressure groups argued that teaching students about the importance of informed consent would somehow encourage them to have sex. And if that wasn’t twisted enough, some board members offered some outright wild and baseless theories, claiming that teaching about consent would aid pedophiles looking for children to abuse. Advocates and experts repeatedly pointed out that understanding consent is important for students to learn before they are sexually active and for their whole lives. But on this, Republican board members remain stuck in the 20th century.
Texans want change. The debate at the SBOE made clear that conservatives are out of step with most Texans on too much. Overwhelming majorities in polling published by TFN in the past and by other sex education advocates this year say they support teaching students about contraception, sexual orientation and gender identity, and consent. But conservatives on the state board and in the Legislature stubbornly cling to failed policies and approaches on sex education.
Progress takes time. We have always known that progress on sex education will take time and a lot of hard work. Our campaign and the final votes at the SBOE last month follow TFN’s more than two decades of advocacy on this issue and show that progress is possible — but that there is still much work ahead. Next year TFN will take our campaign for comprehensive and inclusive sex education to the Legislature and once again to the SBOE when the board takes up consideration of new health textbooks.
And we will continue to organize activists to press for change in their local school districts, where we have seen important progress toward teaching students about contraception, disease prevention, and the importance of consent and inclusion.
Together we are, one way or another, moving Texas into the 21st century when it comes to teaching students about sex and health. We will persist.