We know school will look different this year for our children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews. We hope all Texas students and their teachers have a safe and successful year. But, it’s not just how our students will learn — online, in-person or hybrid; it’s what our students will learn that we are interested in.
On Sept. 8, the State Board of Education will take up revisions to the Health Education Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, the state-mandated standards for curriculum, for the first time in 22 years.
These health standards include sub-topics like mental health, physical wellness and sex education, each just as important as the next. But, sex education, a sometimes-controversial topic, has garnered widespread attention on both sides of the aisle.
As mothers and grandmothers, wives and sisters, and as former Republican elected officials, we’ve joined ranks to encourage our SBOE members to adopt common sense, abstinence-plus sex education standards for Texas students.
What is abstinence-plus? Abstinence-plus sex education teaches students that abstinence is the safest choice, but also provides medically accurate information about topics such as healthy relationships and, at older grades, contraception and prevention of sexually transmitted infections.
Parents are a child’s most important teacher, and updates to the state’s sexual health education standards won’t change that. We know families’ values may vary based on their religion, culture, politics and other factors. The state has recognized that essential fact by ensuring parents can review the lessons and to opt their children out of any or all sex ed lessons.
Sometimes, despite our best efforts as parents, our teens stray off the path we have meticulously laid out for them. And, as teenagers often do, they make impulsive decisions that can impact the rest of their lives. Without access to reliable, fact-based information, teens often turn to less reliable sources of information, including risky and unvetted content they may find online, on social media or from their peers.
So it is critical that the standards ensure that students whose parents may not be equipped with the medical knowledge to teach them about sex, or who may not feel comfortable themselves teaching every topic or subject, can receive the information that will keep them safe and healthy throughout their lives.
Let’s be honest, most of us have been where our SBOE colleagues are now. We’ve had to make hard decisions when other elected officials or party leaders disagree. But the statistics speak for themselves.
■ In Texas, a baby is born to a teen mom every 21 minutes;
■ Sixty-three percent of 12th grade students report having had sex;
■ Texas has the highest rate of repeat teen births in the country; and
■ The rate of sexually transmitted infections has increased 25% among 15-24 year olds in the last decade.
An abstinence-only education is not sufficient to reverse these trends, and we must reverse these trends. The health of our state depends on it. And, we’re not alone in this opinion. A poll of Texas voters conducted this spring found 75% of Texas voters, including 68% of Republican voters, support abstinence-plus education in our schools. That’s across all political affiliations, geographic regions, genders and ethnicities.
Not only do a strong majority of voters support this change to health standards, but the poll numbers track closely with the recommendations from Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath.
We urge the SBOE to adopt health TEKS that will ensure what our children learn in health class keeps pace with scientific understanding, is developmentally appropriate, strengths-based and empowering, and will best position Texas students for healthy, productive futures. Let’s give Texas students a strong start.