Sexual Education in Texas Under Scrutiny Following Fort Worth ISD Pause on Sex Ed Curriculum | Dallas Observer

Education

Sex Education Curriculum in Texas Leaves Much to Be Desired, Advocates Argue

Fort Worth ISD will reportedly resume sex education curriculum next spring.
Fort Worth ISD will reportedly resume sex education curriculum next spring. Photo by Kimberly Farmer on Unsplash
Growing up, Terry Greenberg attended a private school in Dallas that offered a solid sex education. But she had a newfound appreciation for the curriculum when, after starting a family, she realized that her “kids who went to public school were not getting it.”

“As a privileged woman growing up in Dallas, someone thought enough about my future to protect it by giving me that information,” Greenberg said. “And I think that every child has a future worth protecting, and it shouldn't be just reserved for people who have great doctors or who go to fabulous schools.”

These days, Greenberg is the chief development officer for Healthy Futures of Texas, a statewide organization that seeks to improve young Texans’ health through equitable access to health education, contraception and resources. Previously, she founded and has served as CEO for NTARUPT, the North Texas Alliance to Reduce Unintended Pregnancy in Teens, which last summer merged with two other organizations to become Healthy Futures of Texas.

Even though sex ed in Texas got a much-needed facelift in 2020, Greenberg and other advocates argue it’s still lacking. The current standards don’t include lessons about consent nor language that’s inclusive of LGBTQ+ students.

In recent months, some conservative lawmakers have complained of supposed “pornography” on school library shelves. It’s a trend seen elsewhere in the nation, too: One Florida charter school principal was pressured to resign earlier this month after parents complained that a lesson included an image of Michelangelo’s “David,” the iconic nude sculpture.

But even though the majority of Texas voters want schools to offer some form of sex ed, Greenberg said a “very vocal minority” has started inundating school boards, especially in smaller districts.

“There have always been people that are terrified for their kids to get sex education,” she said. “They don't understand that kids who have quality abstinence plus sex education actually have sex less. ... And, you know, frankly, if they don't get it in school, where are they going to get it?”

North Texas school districts have adopted differing approaches to the subject. Fort Worth ISD won’t offer sex ed this school year, for instance, even though its school board had approved a nearly $2.6 million buy of overall health curriculum, including sex ed, back in April.

“The reset is needed after Superintendent Angélica Ramsey paused a committee’s plan to recommend using instructional materials from California-based HealthSmart,” wrote Fort Worth Report’s Jacob Sanchez, adding that the district’s sex ed curriculum will likely resume next spring.

"Teens have even less access to deciding their futures and their pregnancy outcomes than ever, honestly, in the state of Texas." – Emily Witt, Texas Freedom Network

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In another North Texas district, Anna ISD, students in grades 6–12 learn about human sexuality via presentations from 180 Degrees, a “sexual risk avoidance program designed to help teenagers recognize the consequences of premarital sex, the beauty of healthy marriage relationships, and turn their thinking about sex around a whole 180 degrees.”

Dallas ISD trustees decided last May to approve a curriculum that covers gender identity and birth control, according to The Dallas Morning News. School board members have sought to reduce teen pregnancy, especially given that Dallas had the highest teen birth rate in 2019 of any major Texas city.

The Texas Legislature in 2021 turned Texas into one of only five states nationwide that requires parents and guardians to “opt in” when it comes to human sexuality instruction. Opt-in procedures may lead to some students slipping through the cracks as busy parents could lose track of required forms, Greenberg said.

This comes as Texas has the ninth-highest teen pregnancy rate in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Greenberg said we’re second in the country for repeat teen births, and sexually transmitted infections are also on the rise.

Sex ed standards in Texas today don’t accurately address contraception methods other than abstinence, said Emily Witt, the communications and media strategist for Texas Freedom Network, a left-leaning watchdog group.

Advocates have long pushed for sex ed that’s inclusive of LGBTQ+ relationships so such students can learn “all of the comprehensive education that every student deserves,” she said. That includes how to protect themselves from infections and how to recognize dating violence.

Another blow was dealt in December after a federal court ruled that Texas teens can no longer access birth control at federally funded clinics without parental consent.

“And then, of course, we have an abortion ban,” Witt said,“so teens have even less access to deciding their futures and their pregnancy outcomes than ever, honestly, in the state of Texas.”

Witt is also concerned that Texas requires parents to “opt in” for instruction on abuse prevention. On top of being the only state in the nation to do so, it’s worrisome because a child may be experiencing abuse at home — meaning that those who desperately need such lessons could be left without access.

To be sure, there have been improvements along the way. Thanks to the work of Greenberg and other advocates, sex ed is required in middle schools.

The way Greenberg sees it, smartphones expose kids to “way worse stuff,” much of which could be inaccurate or misogynistic information. She encourages concerned parents to stand up for sex ed.

“When this is happening in your district, you need to show up for your school board meetings and say, ‘Hey, we want our kids to get real, accurate information,’” Greenberg said. “They need to hear from you, because there are people who don't want them to have it, and fear it, and that impacts your child.”
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Simone Carter is a staff news reporter at the Dallas Observer who graduated from the University of North Texas' Mayborn School of Journalism. Her favorite color is red, but she digs Miles Davis' Kind of Blue.
Contact: Simone Carter

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