Okay, so if y’all have been following along with us so far, you know that zooming out to a macro level, the Texas legislature passes laws that dictate what can be included in sex education in Texas. And you know that zooming in at the micro level, School Health Advisory Committees (SHACs) help choose sex education curriculums for school districts.
But, what is the State Board of Education (SBOE) role in all of this? Why have our organizations been extremely focused on the SBOE in 2020? Well, the SBOE plays an important role in shaping sex education statewide.
The SBOE is a government body made up of 15 elected members that works in tandem with the Texas Education Agency (TEA). State law gives the SBOE authority to establish the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) curriculum standards, which guide instruction in public schools. School districts are required to teach to the Health TEKS for Kindergarten through Grade 8. Health education is no longer a requirement for high school graduation in Texas. However, if a high school chooses to teach sexual health education, it can be included in an elective health class and must be in line with the Health TEKS.
The SBOE periodically reviews and revises the TEKS and is currently in the review process for the Health TEKS, which includes sexual health education. The TEKS act as the minimum of what must be taught in a course. TEKS revision is an opportunity to make sure that at a minimum, Texas public schools provide medically accurate information on important topics such as contraception, prevention of sexually transmitted infections (STI), and healthy relationships.
Below are the steps of the SBOE TEKS review process, which include engaging outside experts, parents, and the public.
We have reached the final workgroup part in the above process. Adapting to a virtual public hearing process due to COVID-19 has altered the steps and timeline. For example, there will be three public hearings instead of the two required in the normal process, and revisions are now due to be adopted in November instead of September.
The first public hearing on the Health TEKS took place at the end of June, and public testimony occurred via Zoom from 9 a.m. to about 1 a.m. the following day. Of the approximately 260 Texans from around the state that testified, 73 percent spoke in favor of abstinence-plus sex education. Healthy Futures of Texas, North Texas Alliance to Reduce Unintended Pregnancy in Teens (Ntarupt), and the Texas Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy all provided testimony.
One major highlight was Youth Advocacy Council (YAC) member, Sophie Hedley, who stayed up, patiently waiting her turn to testify. Her patience paid off, as she was one of the final three to testify in the wee hours of the morning. She spoke to how valuable receiving comprehensive sexual health education was to her, and about her involvement with YAC was central to her passion to ensure that all Texas youth have the same access.
After the June hearing, SBOE members decided to convene Workgroup F to provide recommendations on specific topic areas identified during the hearing. Once they finish their tasks, they will share their recommendations with SBOE members ahead of the next public hearing from September 8-11. At that point, the only changes that can be made to the revised TEKS will be through amendments put forward by SBOE members themselves.
If you haven’t reached out to your SBOE member, now is the time. Here is a guide that walks you through figuring out who your member is, their contact info, and some sample language to get you started. Your perspective and story matters – your voice is powerful. Remember, SBOE members are elected officials and must represent their constituents – you.
Erika Ramirez is the Director of Policy and Advocacy for Healthy Futures of Texas, working to move us toward a Texas where everyone has access to preventive healthcare, including contraception. When’s she’s not analyzing policy, you can find her frolicking outside at parks and trails with her dog, Oscar, or reading in her hammock.
Healthy Futures of Texas, The Texas Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, and the North Texas Alliance to Reduce Unintended Pregnancy in Teens (NTARUPT) have teamed up to form Texas Is Ready, a movement advocating for improved sex education curriculum standards for Texas youth. In November 2020, the State Board of Education will update the basics of sexual health education in Texas, and leading up to that decision, representatives from each of the organizations making up Texas Is Ready will release regular blogs explaining the broad range of issues related to sexual health education in Texas.