Texas Health Curriculum Standards Overhaul Veers Off Course Out of the Gateby
In a state that long has had one of the highest teen birth rates in the nation, it’s clear that the state’s abstinence-focused curriculum standards for health and sex education need an overhaul. But that’s not how abstinence-only politicians on the State Board of Education see things. Information TFN has obtained through an open records request shows the first revision of the health standards in more than two decades already appears headed off the rails toward another unnecessary culture war battle — this time with the health of millions of Texas students on the line. Check out the press release we just sent out.
TEXAS HEALTH CURRICULUM STANDARDS OVERHAUL VEERS OFF COURSE OUT OF THE GATE
State Board Stocks Key Panel with Abstinence-Only, ‘Bathroom Bill’ Supporters and Anti-Abortion Activist Who Refers to Pregnant Women as ‘Host Organisms’
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 26, 2019
AUSTIN – In a depressing echo of the deeply divisive and politicized revisions of other curriculum standards in the past decade, the State Board of Education’s overhaul of health standards for Texas public schools appears to be veering off course just as it’s getting started, Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller warned today.
“It’s exasperating to see board members repeating the same mistakes that turned previous curriculum revisions into a political circus,” Miller said. “The stakes are just too high for board members to play politics with the education and health of Texas kids. But it sure looks like they’re trying to rig the process to reach a predetermined outcome.”
Miller pointed to the board’s appointment a panel of so-called “content experts” to help guide the revision process of the health standards, which include guidelines on sex education for Texas public schools. She identified at least four problematic appointees, who together make up a majority of the seven-member panel:
- Mikeal Love is a controversial Austin OB-GYN who doesn’t prescribe birth control and refers to a pregnant woman as a “host organism.” Love has played a prominent role in helping draft and pass medically unnecessary anti-abortion laws in Texas. In addition, the state’s attorney general reportedly has paid him at least $46,000 to serve as an “expert” witness defending anti-abortion laws in court cases.
- Jack Lesch, a physician in The Woodlands, has served on the board of directors of the Medical Institute for Sexual Health since 2008. The Austin-based Medical Institute was founded in 1992 by a prominent abstinence-only advocate who calls comprehensive sex education a failure.
- Feyi Obamehinti is a failed State Board of Education candidate and a former teacher in math and science, not health. She has supported the teaching of creationism in science classrooms as well as Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s failed “bathroom bill” in 2017, saying keeping transgender students from using restrooms appropriate to their gender identity “protects all children.”
- Dawn Riley has been the director of mentoring for a crisis pregnancy center in Amarillo, Hope Choice, since 2017. Prior to that, virtually her entire 32-year education career was in language arts, not health. Hope Choice mentoring lessons encourage students to choose a “Purity-Based Lifestyle/Sexuality” and to reject “society’s ‘norms’ that contradict biblical principles.” In an email obtained by the Texas Freedom Network through a public information request, Riley asked one of the board members who appointed her whether she is really qualified to be a content “expert” in health. The board member replied that “we want someone who will provide a voice of reason to the process.”
“With all of our state’s world-class medical and public health institutions, it’s inconceivable that board members couldn’t find better qualified, less politically divisive individuals for this so-called ‘expert’ panel,” Miller said. “These appointments are more about fighting the culture wars than making sure Texas students get the facts they need to make healthy and responsible decisions in their lives.”
The appointment of the “expert” panel marks the start of a long process for writing new health standards for the first time in more than two decades. The new standards will guide classroom instruction and textbook content for the next generation of Texas students.
Six in ten Texas twelfth-graders say they have had sex by that age. Moreover, the teen birth rate and the rate of repeat births to teens in Texas have long ranked among the highest in the nation. But health textbooks adopted by the state board in 2004 include no information on condoms and other methods of birth control and the prevention of sexually transmitted infections other than abstinence. The current health standards and textbooks also include nothing about sexual orientation and gender identity. Earlier this month, the Texas education commissioner released recommendations from a separate panel of scholars and public health experts that would require including information on those topics in the new standards.
This is not the first time state board members have made controversial appointments to “expert” panels guiding the revision of curriculum standards. Board members appointed prominent creationists and opponents of teaching about evolution to their “expert” advisory panel during the revision of science standards in 2009. The next year they appointed a social studies “expert” panel that included a conservative evangelical minister as well as David Barton, a former vice chair of the Texas Republican Party who argues that separation of church and state is a myth. The curriculum standards that resulted from those overhauls were so flawed that the board has since had to revise them again. Even the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute criticized the 2010 social studies standards as a “politicized distortion of history.”
Texas Freedom Network is a grassroots organization of religious and community leaders who support equality, social justice and public education