The Texas Sex Ed Question
The long-running, contentious debate over sex education in Texas schools will rage on in 2020 as the State Board of Education revisits standards for the first time since 1994.
State law does not currently require school districts to administer sex education, but if they choose to do so, abstinence must be the primary focus. Despite this abstinence-based emphasis, Texas continues to have one of the country's highest teen birth rates.
There are fierce divisions over what sex ed topics should be taught at different grade levels, if at all. On one side, advocates of expanded curriculum want "common-sense programs" that are medically accurate, teach pregnancy and disease prevention beyond abstinence, and champion inclusivity of LGBTQ and transgender people.
Critics argue it’s too much, too soon, or that certain topics are altogether inappropriate. Some say sex ed should happen at home, not at school. Many prefer the abstinence-only status quo. Others say comprehensive sex ed is radical and promotes unhealthy sexual behaviors.
The controversy was recently on full display as Austin Independent School District considered, then approved a new comprehensive sex ed curriculum for third through eighth graders.
Starting in May, AISD students will be taught curriculum tailored for each grade on topics including gender identity and expression, body image, contraception, sexually transmitted infections, sexual orientation, and reproductive anatomy. Parents are able to opt their child out.
Texas' SBOE will begin discussion about updates to current state sex and health education policies in January 2020. A final vote will take place in September and should a rewrite be approved, new curriculum will go into effect in 2022.
Where should young people get their information about sexual and reproductive health -- at school or at home, from friends or from the Internet? What information is appropriate to learn at what age?
What metrics are used to determine the effectiveness of health and sex education? Has abstinence-only curriculum produced positive outcomes in Texas? How could cetain revisions impact public health?
- Claire McInerny, education reporter for KUT
- Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network
- Mary Elizabeth Castle, policy advisor for Texas Values
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*This interview was recorded on Monday, November 25.