In the first changes to the sex education curriculum in Texas in more than 20 years, the State Board of Education on Friday approved teaching middle schoolers about birth control but decided against providing students with information on consent, sexual orientation and gender identity.
The revisions consist of teaching seventh and eighth graders about the effectiveness of birth control in preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. Currently, only high schoolers get such lessons, though health courses aren't required for graduation.
The new standards, which guide textbook content as well as instruction in public schools across the state, will go into effect in 2022. The board last updated the state's sex education curriculum in 1997.
The board also approved teaching fifth graders about fertilization and sixth graders about sexual intercourse.
School districts in Texas aren't required to offer sex education, but if they do, they're required by state law to emphasize abstinence.
While some board members tried to include references to sexual orientation and gender identity in the curriculum revisions, the majority of the Republican-dominated board was against such additions.
Marty Rowley, a Republican board member from Amarillo, said it should be up to districts to determine whether they wanted to include such information.
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"I know not everyone got what they wanted in this set of standards, but I would encourage them to compare this set of standards with what we began with to see there was a great deal of advancement with regard to coming up with a set of standards that I think are relevant and workable," Rowley said.
Val Benavidez, president of the Texas Freedom Network, a left-leaning watchdog of the state's education board, said in a statement: "This isn't a local control issue. It's an issue of basic human decency."
"Arguing that it's controversial simply to acknowledge LGBTQ people exist and deserve to be treated with respect just like everyone else is pretty damning," Benavidez said.
Across the nation, 11 states require inclusive content in regard to sexual orientation in sex education, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports reproductive rights. The organization said nine states require sex education to include information about consent.