Policy work is long, slow, painstaking, and rarely glamorous. Its hours in committees, building consensus with stakeholders, tweaking data sheets and then suddenly -- the moment of change arrives. That’s where we are now. The moment of change. The State Board of Education (SBOE) will be hearing public testimony on health and sex education curriculum standards on Tuesday, Sept. 8 and casting initial votes on Sept. 9. This is the week that we take a leap forward in making sure Texas students have access to the most basic information about their bodies and their reproductive health. First, the good news. The SBOE will be debating draft standards that, overall, are pretty darn good. While the standards unfortunately do not include language of LGBTQ youth, they are strong in other areas such as contraception, prevention and treatment of STIs, consent, and healthy relationships. They’re supported by the Texas is Ready Coalition and by major medical and youth-serving organizations.
Now the bad news. We are hearing rumblings that there will be attempts to attack the positive language in the draft TEKS and pull Texas back to an abstinence-only curriculum. In other words - this is clutch time. Here’s what you can do: The easiest step you can take is signing our petition in support of sex education. This one-minute advocacy really can make a difference. But why stop there? We’re asking all advocates to reach out to their SBOE member. You can use this link to find your member and their email address. Our quick advocacy guide and full advocacy toolkit have tons of helpful information. This is the part where some organizations would give you a form email to cut and paste, or a link to clink to send a robo-email. However, that type of outreach isn’t very effective. What does work is sending a personal email -- it can be short and sweet (honestly, short and sweet is a good thing to aim for) but your own words are best. However, if you want a few cheats to start, try this:
Introduction: Introduce yourself and say a bit about yourself. Maybe you’re a parent, a student who received bad sex education, or a person with professional experience working with youth.
State your “ask”, or what you want the member to do. In this case, our ask is, “Please support the abstinence-plus language in the Health Education TEKS, and please maintain this language in middle school.” This information is critical for preventing unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. Since high school health classes are elective, many students will never receive this information in a school based setting if it is not included in the middle school health TEKS. You can also talk about why we should be teaching information on consent, including respecting the boundaries set by other people about their bodies. And you may want to ask members to add language that is inclusive of LGBTQ youth, who may experience trauma as a result of bullying. See more talking points in our toolkit.
Close: Say a big thank you to your member for all their hard work, and offer to be a resource if they have any questions. Remember that SBOE members have huge districts, they work unpaid and don't have staff, so some members are more responsive than others. You may not hear back, but feel free to follow up a few days later.
Reaching out is the most important step you can take, but here are more options:
Of course you’ve already signed our petition in support of sex education -- now share it with five friends.
Write a letter to the editor of your local paper this week in support of sex ed
Share information from Texas is Ready on your social media channels -- the quick advocacy guide is a good tool to share.
Consider testifying at the September 8 hearing. Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.
We’ve been in this work for the long haul, but the next week is the most important phase of the whole process. If you want to say that you helped make Texas sex education better for every student, the time to act is now.
Jen Biundo is the Director of Policy and Data for the Texas Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. She loves a good data visualization, evidence-based public health priorities, and analyzing ballot returns by precinct. She’s the proud mother of two kids who are enrolled in Texas public schools, including a middle schooler who kind of wishes his mom had a normal job that didn’t involve sex education.
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.