State board gathers East Texas input for long-range education plan

District 9 State Board of Education member Keven Ellis speaks in February 2018 to parents, community members and educators during a meeting at the Region 7 Education Service Center in Kilgore.

Sex education in Texas has not changed in 21 years, but the State Board of Education has appointed a work group to begin drafting new health standards.

The board is set to vote on the drafts next year, according to a report in the Dallas Morning News.

Keven Ellis of Lufkin, chair of the Texas State Board of Education and East Texas’ representative, said in an email that curriculum for each subject is typically revised every 10 years, but the board chose not to revise health curriculum the last time it was scheduled to be addressed.

“The first step in the process included having seven content advisers meet to provide feedback to the (board),” he said. “Multiple work groups will now begin drafting the new standards. The initial draft will likely come to the SBOE for discussion during our June 2020 meeting. We will likely have our first reading in September of 2020 and likely our second reading and final adoption in November of 2020.”

Health is not a graduation requirement in Texas. According to the Texas Campaign to to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, if sex education is taught in schools, it is required to emphasize abstinence until marriage.

“During this process, we will review the current standards and determine if any additional changes are necessary,” Ellis said. “Any changes that we make will be researched based and medically accurate.”

Longview-area schools have varying classroom programs that touch on sex education.

Longview ISD

Longview ISD spokeswoman Elizabeth Ross said students in fourth and fifth grades are taught a “changing bodies” course, which is essentially a talk about puberty.

Every campus separates the boys and girls into different rooms, and students watch a district-approved video, Ross said. The girls are with school nurses and the boys with coaches.

At Ware East Texas Montessori Prep Academy, the Junior League has a “Girl Talk” program where women in the organization talk with girls about puberty. Students can write down questions for members to answer, Ross said. The girls also get a bag of toiletries.

Aside from learning about puberty, the district does not offer other sex education, Ross said.

“We encourage (students) to make sure they’re talking to someone they trust and can help answer questions,” she said. “If they are not comfortable with a parent or family member, then talk to a teacher or school nurse.”

Pine Tree ISD

Students at Pine Tree are introduced to the ESTEEM curriculum in fifth grade, and it continues through high school, said Eric Cederstrom, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

According to a handout from Cederstrom, ESTEEM is a risk-avoidance curriculum that focuses on character development and adolescent safety risk avoidance.

The curriculum covers topics including puberty, the cost of teen pregnancy, fatherhood, sexually transmitted diseases, abstinence and dating standards. It also addresses other social and developmental issues such as bullying, healthy relationships and communication.

“We’re sticking with the health standards of the state curriculum to look at the overall health of our kids,” he said. “I think currently focusing on just looking at the overall health of our kids has been very helpful.”

The district is committed to teaching students to avoid situations where they are not prepared to deal with the outcome, Cedesrstrom said, along with situations that may cause them harm.

If the standards for sex education are changed, Cederstrom said Pine Tree will comply with what the state board mandates. The district will seek community input and be transparent in the process.

“We care deeply for our kids, and we continue to try to educate them to be young adults in ways that they can carry forward,” he said. “Even if we teach something in the classroom to them, if it doesn’t translate once they leave our walls — either for the day or the weekend or for their academic or professional career — It doesn’t matter if we can’t teach them to be able to take responsibility for themselves and be able to translate that to life.”

Spring Hill ISD

ESTEEM also is used at Spring Hill ISD, Superintendent Wayne Guidry said. But outside of the school’s walls, it is important for families to speak with students when it comes to sex education.

“These conversations are tough, but these conversations are critical,” he said. “Ultimately, I want our kids to be prepared to make the right decisions.”

As far as changes to the curriculum, Guidry said abstinence education should be included, but when it comes to teen pregnancy in Texas, the data does not lie.

According to the Texas Campaign Against Teen Pregnancy, in 2017, Texas had the seventh-highest rate of teen birth in the nation and the fourth-highest rate of repeat teen births. About 15% of Texas girls give birth before age 20.

”I’m not sure what (teen pregnancy rates are) from, honestly I don’t know what the answer is,” Guidry said. “But I think our kids deserve the best information.”

As a father of a seventh-grade girl, Guidry said he is thankful his wife is able to have those conversations with their daughter, and he wants to be able to provide the best education possible for all his students so they can make good decisions.

Hallsville ISD

Hallsville ISD does not offer any type of sex education, Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction Amber Daub said in an email.

The topic is briefly covered in an eight-grade health course, and that course supports abstinence education, she said.