September 11, 2020 – In a series of votes Thursday and today, the Republican-controlled Texas State Board of Education rejected proposals to teach students in public school health classes that everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.
The rejection of these proposals is especially tragic because research shows six in ten LGBT students say they don’t feel safe at school because of harassment and bullying they face simply because of who they are, said Carisa Lopez, political director for the Texas Freedom Network.
“Imagine the tragic message state board members have sent by refusing to acknowledge that LGBT students even exist in our classrooms,” Lopez said. “The board had a chance to stand with young people who are looking to feel safe and respected in their schools. A majority of board members chose to abandon them and stand with the bullies instead.”
Board member Ruben Cortez, D-Brownsville, proposed standards requiring students in Grades 7-8 and high school be able to define and differentiate between sexual orientation and gender identity. Two other proposals called for students to learn that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their orientation or identity. Board Democrats and one Republican backed all four proposals, but nine Republicans voted them down.
In an echo of past debates over curriculum standards in other subjects, board members over just a few days adopted scores of other amendments that essentially rewrote significant sections of drafts carefully crafted by teams of educators, specialists and parents over the past year. Among the changes were reinforcing standards that focus on abstinence-until-marriage while removing specific references to the importance of consent even as the “Me Too” movement seeks to address sexual coercion and harassment in American society.
Lopez rejected arguments that teaching specifically about consent promotes sexual behavior among young people or, as one Republican board member absurdly suggested, helps pedophiles groom children for sex.
“Students should understand what a healthy relationship looks like before they become sexually active,” Lopez said. “That means schools must teach about the importance of consent, respect for personal boundaries, and the prevention of abuse and harassment. This information is important for life, not just while students are in school.”
Requirements that students in Grades 7-8 as well as high school learn about contraception remain in the standards. That represents progress in a state in which, according to a 2017 study from the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund, more than 80 percent of Texas school districts teach abstinence-only or nothing at all on sex education. More than 60 percent of Texas high school seniors say they have already had sex by that age, according to survey research.
The board voted to approve the proposed health standards, with amendments, on first reading this afternoon. Board members are set to consider the standards on second reading and final adoption in November. The board last revised health standards more than 20 years ago.
The Texas Freedom Network is a grassroots organization of religious and community leaders and young Texans who support equality and social justice, including strong public schools. www.tfn.org