Some Central Texas schools cancel sex education during pandemic, others ask parents to cover it

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Local schools have been faced with another decision during the pandemic: to teach or not to teach sex education.

KXAN has found Central Texas school districts are handling the situation in a variety of ways with children in kindergarten through eighth grade, since some students are still learning remotely. Some are putting the responsibility on parents, while others are choosing to cancel the courses altogether.

Before we get into who is doing what, here’s how the Texas Education Agency describes what is required:

The State Board of Education establishes the essential knowledge and skills for health education, which addresses some topics related to sexual education at certain grade levels. Districts and charter schools are required to provide instruction in all of the TEKS for health education for students in kindergarten – grade 8. At high school, districts and charters are required to provide instruction in all of the TEKS if they offer a high school health education course.

Texas Education Code §28.004 establishes that a school district may provide human sexuality instruction and spells out requirements and prohibitions regarding such instruction. It is a local district decision whether to offer this instruction. This instruction may or may not be offered through a health course — that is determined by each local district.

Eanes ISD asking parents to cover it

Eanes ISD is asking parents of fifth graders to deliver the “Human Growth and Development: Puberty” curriculum at home to their children on their own time. The district emailed parents May 3 and said the lessons, which introduce fifth graders to changes that occur during puberty, the male and female reproductive systems and sexually transmitted infections, are designed for in-person discussions.

“During this time of blended instruction, it would be difficult to cover this curriculum in an equitable manner to ensure remote students have privacy and access to adult interaction during instruction,” the letter stated.

The letter went on to say substitute nurses would need to be brought in if the district taught the courses, and said those substitutes are already in short supply. The district also said instruction time has been limited due to COVID-19 and the winter storm.

Included in the email were links to the curriculum which consists of four one-hour lessons.

“While it’s not ideal, I think it’s the best we can do at this point,” said Kristin Shaw, who has a fifth-grade boy in the district. “I think everybody’s trying to figure out what to do in this pandemic, and I have a lot of faith in the administration.”

Shaw said she has been talking to her 11-year-old about age-appropriate sex education topics since he was in kindergarten and plans on delivering the lessons to him provided by the district.

She understands it’s an uncomfortable conversation for some parents but hopes they take the time to do it, so the children are getting accurate information before they head to middle school.

A different parent of an Eanes ISD fifth grader reached out to KXAN and said the district’s decision to have parents facilitate the lessons at home is another way “students are being cheated” during the pandemic. She is worried about students not getting the curriculum for a second year in a row.

“I am extremely concerned about the welfare of TWO years of students who haven’t been taught the state mandated curriculum,” she said. “The requirements are in place for many proven reasons, including the fact that many parents won’t fully teach this class themselves.”

Eanes ISD’s Chief Learning Officer Susan Fambrough said she hopes many parents choose to teach it at home with the provided links but said it is voluntary. She has heard “a select few” are not happy with the district’s decision.

“I can totally relate to their disappointment, but I also have heard from so many parents that are supportive of the decision,” said Fambrough. “They’re saying, ‘Gosh, you guys are doing so much in the school, we have already lost some instructional time, we are happy to take that on at home.'”

The district has paid for parents to access the program and material until June 18 and will be able to receive data on how many parents access the links.

Austin ISD cancels courses for K-8

Austin ISD decided its Human Sexuality and Responsibility lessons will not be taught virtually or face-to-face this spring for students in grades K-8.

“This decision was made due to the unique demands placed on schools and teachers during the COVID-19 crisis for students attending both in person and remotely,” the statement said. “Delivering this content in a virtual setting would create challenges for students to engage in open discussions with their teacher and peers.”

The district outlined its decision on its website. High school students who are currently enrolled in the Health Education course will participate, and parents will continue to have the option to opt out their child.

Round Rock ISD sticks to teacher-led lessons

Round Rock ISD decided its staff would deliver the curriculum to students whether it’s on campus or virtual.

“We were specific in telling campuses to NOT email curriculum links, as our process was for all sex ed-type instruction to happen in live, facilitated environments rather than asynchronously,” said Jenny LaCoste Caputo, Chief of Public Affairs and Communications.

In general, a major change is coming to sex education curriculum in Texas schools for the 2021-22 school year. In November, the SBOE revised state standards to allow the teaching of birth control methods to middle school students. Prior to this, public schools have followed an abstinence-first education model.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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