The September meeting of the State Board of Education was a major moment in Texas history. As a result of the meeting, all Texas youth will receive critical education on contraception, STIs, respecting boundaries, bullying, and more. There is a strong potential for this new set of health education standards to help the state leap into better adolescent health outcomes, and that is something to celebrate!
Our team watched the whole thing live, and we’ve identified our top 5 moments of the meeting. Check them out, and let us know what moments were your favorite!
1) Members Cortez, Perez-Diaz, Allen, Davis, Perez and Robinson stand strong on LGBTQ+ inclusion
The vast majority of testimony given at both the June and September meetings was in favor of LGBTQ+ inclusive sex ed, bearing out polling data from registered Texas voters on the subject. Texans support teaching our students about how to respect LGBTQ+ youth and make schools safer. While no amendments to the health standards passed to reflect the will of Texans, 6 of the 15 members stood strong in support of LGBTQ+ youth: all five Democrats, and one Republican, Matt Robinson.
The arguments the members made in support of the LGBTQ+ community were passionate, data-driven and powerful. While they were not successful, this was a major moment for LGBTQ+ youth in the state, and there’s a push to address this issue again in November.
Special thanks to Member Cortez, who offered four incredible amendments to the Board and shared a very powerful story about his family’s experience with having a queer child. Special thanks as well to Member Perez-Diaz, who made an impassioned speech about how, as Christians and as people, we are called to love everyone. And special thanks go to Member Perez for shining light on why intersex youth in particular need to be considered when setting sex ed standards. These moments mattered!
This fight is not over. Member Perez-Diaz is calling for people to write their SBOE members to include an amendment for LGBTQ youth.
2) Some pretty good sex ed for all in Texas (you read that right!)
Sometimes the moment is fireworks, and sometimes it’s the absence of fireworks. With plenty of thoughtful testimony in support, but with minimal debate, the board gave preliminary approval to curriculum standards that offer basic education on contraception and prevention, screening, and treatment of sexually transmitted infections to all Texas students. It was easy to miss, but it represents a big step forward for sex education in Texas.
Currently, health education is elective at the high school level, meaning students don’t choose to take it and many districts don’t even offer it. By offering this basic information at the middle school level when health class is required, all Texas students will have access to this crucial information. These standards are offered within a strong framework of abstinence, and parents always retain the right to opt their kids out of sex ed class.
3) Another incredible set of public testimony!
It will come as no surprise that 100% of the youth that testified at the meeting spoke in favor of quality sex ed that is inclusive of LGBTQ youth and addresses the real world that they inhabit. The meeting also featured a wide variety of adults - including educators and parents - who spoke in favor of quality sex ed standards. The final count showed an overwhelming 77% of support from testifiers, again reflecting results from a poll taken in March.
The members decided against hearing all registered testifiers, claiming the long days justified the action. Luckily, the testimony that was able to be delivered featured the wide diversity of Texas voices in the coalition for sex ed for all.
For the data nerds out there, here’s our official tabulation.
4) The consent debate
Our current TEKS, written in the 1990s, focus only on refusal skills - teaching kids how to say no to sex. Of course, being able to set your own boundaries is an important skill to have. But as member Gina Perez noted in the meeting, “What happens when you say no and the other person doesn’t know how to listen?”
Inexplicably, Member Ken Mercer claimed that consent was a “gateway term” encouraging pedophilia and child sex abuse - despite the fact that every expert stakeholder group who weighed in noted that teaching consent is an important protective factor against sexual abuse.
The draft TEKS, written by a series of content area experts, had included strong language teaching kids concepts of consent in age appropriate ways. Members Perez, Aicha Davis, Lawrence Allen, Marisa Perez Diaz, Ruben Cortez, and Republican Matt Robinson all spoke up strongly in support of consent. They echoed many youth who testified in favor of consent, visibly frustrated that many board members didn’t seem to understand why teaching consent is so important.
In the end, the GOP majority had the votes to strip consent education out of the TEKS, though they did agree to leave in language teaching the importance of respecting the boundaries of other people. Though the removal of consent is concerning, the new TEKS still will be an improvement over the 1990s version that only teaches refusal.
5) TEA staff were totally on the ball
Special shout out to the Texas Education Agency staff, who definitely deserve a vacation after a series of 15-hour days keeping the gears running in the meeting. From patiently answering phone calls for witnesses with technical difficulties, to grammar checking TEKS language, to minding Robert’s Rules of Order, these civil servants are the unsung heroes that kept the process working smoothly.
Anthony Betori is the Program Director at Healthy Futures of Texas. He is a MPH candidate at John Hopkins University and a Bloomberg Fellow. He has two great loves: public health and baking. Anthony resides in San Antonio, Texas.
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 formTexas 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.