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This week, the State Board of Education (SBOE) will have an opportunity to consider updated health standards for the first time in more than two decades. The last time members voted on these standards it was 1997 and the movie Selena had just come out. The proposed abstinence-plus sex education updates include more information about contraception, sexually transmitted infections, consent, and healthy relationships.
It is critical that board members approve these health standards, which were proposed by a working group of experts they appointed. As a member of the working group responsible for this update, I can say that these standards acknowledge the world we live in – one where understanding topics like consent and contraception, as well as the benefits of abstinence, empower young people to make choices that protect them and allow them to pursue their dreams.
I am proud to say that we worked closely with medical and education professionals from across the state to find consensus in the language and updates, which focused on three critical areas: contraception methods; information about the prevention of sexually transmitted infections [STIs]; and consent and the pillars of a healthy relationship. They are standards that acknowledge the reality that not all young people will choose to abstain from sex, and that those who do not should be given proper information to keep them safe. State Board of Education members are meeting this week to review the standards and hear amendments. A final vote will be taken in November.
As a mother and sex education advocate, I understand how a vote in favor of these updated health and sex education standards will strengthen communities and help decrease cycles of poverty associated with unintended and teen pregnancy. In Bexar County, it is especially critical. A baby is born to a teen mom every four hours in Bexar County and 54 percent of all pregnancies in Texas are unintended. Medically-accurate, developmentally-appropriate sex education could mean the difference between a young person walking across their high school graduation stage or dropping out of high school to care for a new baby.
The updates that school board members will review this week also include recommendations to add age-appropriate information at the middle school level, where health courses are mandatory. If these standards are moved to high school health courses, which are optional, almost three-fourths of students would not have access to them. And to be clear: parents would retain the authority to opt-out of any portion of the lessons should they choose.
We know that we’re not alone in wanting to give Texas students information that empowers them. As a leader in reducing teen and unintended pregnancies, we know firsthand that the more informed students are, the more likely they are to make choices in favor of abstinence or safe sex. It’s why in a recent hearing before the State Board of Education, almost 200 parents, teachers, doctors, students, and advocates testified in favor of adopting revised standards that better educate and protect young people.
From grandmothers in rural Texas counties who have been lifelong Republicans to teachers on the front lines of our high schools, the majority of Texans agree with sex education that includes more information about contraception, STIs, and consent and healthy relationships. In a recent poll of Texas voters, 75 percent of respondents, including 68 percent of Republicans, said they support teaching abstinence-plus sex education. It is time for Texas students to have all the facts and for us to make good on the promises we make to our own children.
The SBOE has a historic chance to vote in favor of health standards that acknowledge the world that we live in and prepare students for lifelong health. Join us in reminding our state leaders what they already know: these standards honor a commitment to provide young people with medically-accurate and developmentally-appropriate information. We owe it to them to get this right.