AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Texas State Board of Education is meeting this week to consider changes to how children are taught about health and sex—curriculum that hasn’t been revised since 1997.
Texas requires public schools to follow an abstinence-first education model, though school districts aren’t required to provide sexual education under the Texas Election Code. The sexual education guidelines that do exist don’t require any instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity.
The SBOE is expected to hold a final vote on revisions Friday which would continue the state’s focus on abstinence, but with new attention on prevention.
A report released by the Texas Freedom Network in 2016 found 83% of school districts in the state teach abstinence-only or nothing at all about sex education. An amendment that would have added definitions for sexual orientation and gender identity was voted down in September.
“Things are still not looking super positive,” said Jules Mandel, the organization’s advocacy and outreach coordinator. “There is nothing about LGBTQ people. The word ‘consent’ is not included.”
The SBOE has spent more than a year considering revisions to sexual education guidelines for schools. This week, hundreds of people registered to address the board about the revisions before the final vote.
The guidelines serve as a floor, not a ceiling, for public school districts in Texas that choose to teach sexual education. Austin ISD added curriculum on consent and gender identity to its sexual education plan in 2019.
Lori Kukendall, president of the Medical Institute for Sexual Health, an abstinence advocacy group, said the SBOE is making needed adjustments but should continue to place control with local school districts.
Kukendall and other abstinence advocates say state guidelines, while stagnant for more than 20 years, have worked; the teen birth rate has declined steadily. The teen birth rate was 71.50 per 1,000 in 1998, while the rate in 2018 declined 65% to 25 per 1,000, according to the Texas Campaign to Prevent Pregnancy.
“When we talk specifically about sexual behavior, sexual risks, all students are at risk if they are sexually active, no matter their sexual orientation.”
LGTBQ advocates argue education about gender identity and sexual orientation is a mental health issue, too, and not only about reproduction.
There is still a chance that members on the Republican-controlled board will propose additional revisions before the final vote.