This piece is part of our We the People (of Texas) series during the 2020 Election season.
For the first time since 1997, the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) is revising the health curriculum standards for Texas students, including sex education.
The first public hearing regarding the proposed curriculum changes took place in June, with the follow-up hearing taking place this week. This critical event has been more than 20 years in the making, yet the process behind all of this remains unclear to many who are not familiar with how the SBOE operates. And for those who are aware, there are conservative extremists who are actively working to ensure that the new health guidelines do not include medically accurate, comprehensive, and stigma-free sexual health education.
SBOE elections are hardly ever considered high profile races, yet the 15 people that serve on the board hold the power of deciding what millions of students in public schools across Texas learn for years to come. State Board members are elected for 4-year terms, hold partisan positions, cannot hold any other political office while serving or campaigning for the state board, and do not receive any compensation for serving as a board member. The current makeup of the board is 10 Republicans to 5 Democrats, with 8 seats up for grabs in the November 2020 election.
The first SBOE public hearing in June spanned over 10+ hours with more than 150 testimonies from Texans across the state, all of various ages and occupations. It was clear that comprehensive and inclusive sex education is an issue Texans care about.
In the 2015-2016 school year alone, more than 80% of Texas school districts taught abstinence-only or nothing at all when it came to sex education, even though Texas is an opt-out state. Texas has consistently ranked among the highest of the states in teen birth and pregnancy rates: Texas had the ninth-highest teen birth rate in 2018 and has consistently ranked among the 10 highest in the nation.
Even if schools are implementing some form of sex education into their health courses, there are no current guidelines to including LGBTQIA+ sexual health/sexual orientation/gender identity information in the curriculum. The current sexual health guidelines are failing our students, and our opportunity to ensure updated and effective guidelines are created is now.
Now, the final proposal for sex ed standards still excludes any direct mention of LGBTQ issues.
20 years is too long of a wait for young people to receive access to the sexual health education they rightfully deserve.
Parents and caregivers want their children to have honest information and feel safe, welcomed, and acknowledged at school. Teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity and expression promotes respect for others, helps all students understand themselves and the people around them, and helps to reduce bullying, discrimination, and harassment.
Young Texans deserve comprehensive, LGBTQ+ inclusive, medically accurate, and stigma- and shame-free sex education. Texans are calling upon current State Board members to include these values into the newly proposed curriculum guidelines, and if they fail to do so we will remember come election time in November.
These State Board of Education seats are on the ballot this election season:
District 1 (El Paso) - Targeted by Republicans
Georgina Perez (D) - Incumbent since 2017
Jennifer Ivey (R)
District 5 (San Antonio/Austin) - Flippable District
Seat held by Ken Mercer (R) since 2006.
Rebecca Bell-Metereau (D)
Lani Popp (R)
Stephanie Berlin (L)
District 6 (Houston) - Flippable District
Seat held by Donna Bahorich (R) since 2012.
Michelle Palmer (D)
Will Hickman (R)
Whitney Bilyeu (L)
District 8 (The Woodlands)
Seat held by Barbara Cargill (R) since 2004. No Democrats are on the ballot.
Audrey Young (R)
Brian Leonard (L)
District 9 (Lufkin) - Flippable District
Keven Ellis (R) - Incumbent since 2017
Brenda Davis (D)
District 10 (Florence) - Flippable District
Tom Maynard (R) - Incumbent since 2013
Marsha Burnett-Webster (D)
Trip Seibold (L)
District 14 (Robinson) - Flippable District
Sue Melton-Malone (R) - Incumbent since 2013
Greg Alvord (D)
District 15 (Amarillo) - Flippable District
Seat held by Marty Rowley (R) since 2013.
John Betancourt (D)
Jay Johnson (R)
For more information on the 2020 Election, please visit GoVoteTexas.org.
Victoria Guerrero is a student activist attending the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. She is a student organizer with the organization Advocates for Youth and works as a Deputy Field Organizer for Texas Rising. Her work centers on reproductive justice and its intersection with immigration and environmental justice.
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