Fort Worth schools straying from Texas law on sex education
The State Board of Education that I have served on for 20 years worked for nearly two years to get health and sex education right for the state of Texas when it adopted new health standards in 2020. The Legislature came behind us in 2021 to get the laws right, ensuring a transparent curriculum and parents’ rights to give permission for sex education.
Now, Fort Worth ISD is getting it wrong. The district is considering a curriculum that does not align with the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills standards, called TEKS, or state law.
Five years ago, FWISD made national news for disregarding parent input on sex education. It continues to do so. Apparently, two meetings of the district’s School Health Advisory Council were held in September, but no one came. In an effort to correct this misstep, another was held recently.
How were parents notified of this over the holiday break? The few people that came to the meeting were not allowed to see the curriculum. The district has made it extremely difficult for parents and community members to preview the curriculum as is required by law. I cannot understand why the council hides notice of its meetings rather than reaching out and inviting parents into the process.
It appears that FWISD has already purchased a curriculum called HealthSmart, but it did not go through the legal review and adoption process required. By law, all health and sexuality curriculum must be recommended by the advisory council and approved by the Board of Trustees. Neither step has occurred.
HealthSmart is a national curriculum that boasts alignment with the National Sex Education Standards and the California Healthy Youth Act, both of which contradict Texas law. A quick review of the content makes clear this curriculum does not align with the new TEKS.
Texas’ standards use “male and female” in teaching puberty, while HealthSmart uses “body with a vagina” and “body with a penis.” The new TEKS include teaching about contraception to seventh- or eighth-graders with the effectiveness, risks and failure rates in the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases or infections and pregnancy.
HealthSmart addresses pregnancy prevention but does not focus on disease prevention. Instead, it includes a lesson normalizing infection and includes information about how to tell your partner you’re infected.
HealthSmart teaches “affirmative consent,” which teaches students to negotiate for sexual activity, while the Health TEKS require teaching refusal skills (and not consent), helping students avoid the risks of sexual activity. HealthSmart teaches “safer sex” and risk reduction, whereas the new Health TEKS and the Texas Education Code require a sexual-risk avoidance approach.
The State Board of Education worked hard to ensure that state laws requiring an emphasis on abstinence until marriage were met in the new TEKS, while also providing medically accurate, age-appropriate information about sexual health beginning in fourth grade. The Legislature worked hard to ensure parents are involved in the review and adoption process of curriculum and that they have the opportunity to opt-in for their children to participate.
Fort Worth ISD needs to work hard, too, to ensure that both the Health TEKS and the state laws are met. And the district absolutely must include parents. I suggest leaders follow the process set forth in the Texas Education Code and consider the state board-adopted standards that went through an in-depth review process by the Texas Education Agency before coming to the State Board of Education for adoption.
We spent many hours and heard from many parents and community stakeholders to ensure the 5.5 million children of Texas receive health instruction that promotes their current and future health and academic success. I hope students in Fort Worth ISD will have the same opportunity.
Pat Hardy, a Fort Worth Republican, represents District 11 on the State Board of Education.