September is Sexual Health Awareness Month and a time when students are kicking off a new school year. This academic year may look a little differently for some Texas public school districts and charter schools, because for the first time in more than two decades, new health education Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) go into effect.
The updated TEKS cover many areas of health, including abstinence-plus sexual health. Abstinence-plus sexual health centers abstinence as the most effective way to prevent unintended pregnancy and the contraction of STIs and HIV. In addition, this type of sexual health education includes information about healthy relationships, respecting the boundaries of other people, contraception, as well as the prevention, screening, and treatment of STIs.
The majority of Texas parents and caretakers support abstinence-plus sexual health education in schools and want their students’ schools to partner with them to keep their children healthy. Below are questions and answers that many Texas parents consider when making the decision for their students to participate in sexual health education classes.
What are the opt-in forms for sex education?
Opt-in forms are permission slips that school districts and charter schools must send out to caretakers of students at least 14 days prior to instruction on human sexuality and the prevention of child abuse, family violence, dating violence, and sex trafficking.
Texas is now one of just five states requiring parents to opt children into sex education, and the only state requiring opt in for instruction on abuse prevention. Parents or guardians must provide written consent in order for their children to be able to participate in the instruction.
What grade levels will receive the sex education opt-in forms?
Sexual health content starts at the 4th grade level with information about puberty. However, schools may choose to send opt-in forms to all grade levels to simplify their administrative processes.
Health education is required in middle school, but not high school, for Texas public schools. Therefore, caretakers will receive opt-in forms when and if a school offers a sexual health education course.
Does my child have to take Sex Ed in school? Is it mandatory?
Sex Ed is not mandatory. Students will only receive sex ed if their parents or caretakers choose to “opt-in.” School districts and charter schools are required to send out sex ed permission slips at least 2-weeks before sex ed is taught.
Parents and caretakers may choose to opt-in or opt-out of all lessons or only some lessons.
Can I see the sex ed content before I make my decision to opt my student in or out?
Yes! School districts and charter schools are required to allow parents and caretakers to review sex ed content at their students’ home campuses. Open source content must also be shared online.
Parents and caretakers also have the right to purchase the chosen sex ed curricula at the same price as the school, for curricula contracts entered into in 2021 or later.
How do students say that they want to learn about sexual health?
When asked by researchers, students consistently say that they want to learn about sexual health from reliable sources like doctors, schools, and their own parents. However, they often don’t get the information they need from these trusted sources, and instead they are left to figure it out themselves through internet searches or by talking with friends.
Making sure that youth can access medically accurate information is a key step in helping them stay safe and healthy.
Can I opt my student into some of the sex ed lessons, but not all of them?
Yes. Parents and caretakers may choose to opt-in or opt-out of all lessons or only some lessons.
What will my student be taught in Sex Ed?
The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) adopted new minimum health education standards, also known as Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). School districts and charter schools are required to teach all of the TEKS. You can read the new Health Education TEKS at this link.
Schools are responsible for selecting and/or creating curricula that cover all of the TEKS, and they may choose to teach additional information not included in the TEKS.
Parents and Caretakers have the right to review the materials at their students’ home campuses.
How can sex education help keep my child safe and healthy?
SexEd can help students learn how to develop healthy relationship social norms, how to communicate boundaries, the importance of understanding and respecting consent, and improve discussions with parents and trusted adults.
Evidence suggests that sexual health education programs can help students to delay sexual initiation, reduce recent sexual activity, improve contraceptive use, decrease STIs and HIV, and prevent pregnancy.
Will my student be exposed to visuals of sexual activity?
No. Sexual health education is required to be age appropriate. Students will not be exposed to visual acts of sexual activity as part of the course.
How can I be involved with school health?
School Health Advisory Councils, known as #SHACs, are volunteer groups made up of parents, students, school staff, and members of the business, medical, and faith communities. Required under state law, SHACs are charged with ensuring local community values are reflected in health education. As an advisory group, they make recommendations to the school board on various topics, including #sexed curricula.
Required under state law, SHACs are charged with ensuring local community values are reflected in health education.
Does teaching young people about sex make them want to do it more?
While this is a common assumption, research tells us that exact opposite. Using a factual, shame free approach to teaching young people about sex has shown to delay sexual activity among those who were not sexually active and increase the use of preventive measures among those who are sexually active.
Will my student learn about people who identify as gay and/or transgender?
The minimum health education TEKS put forth by the State Board of Education (SBOE) do not include information about individuals who identify as LGBTQIA+.
However, schools may choose to “teach beyond the TEKS” and use inclusive health education materials during the sex ed course.
Students and parents who support LGBTQ-inclusive sex education may advocate to their SHAC or school board.
Will condoms be given to students?
Schools districts and charter schools are not allowed to distribute condoms to students during the sex ed course.
However, schools are allowed to perform condom demonstrations during the sex ed course.
For any questions relating to sex education in Texas or the TEKS, contact J.R. Chester, the Texas Is Ready program director at firstname.lastname@example.org.