AUSTIN, Texas — A new sex education curriculum is coming to schools in the Austin Independent School District despite a lot of opposition.
The AISD board unanimously approved the new sex-ed curriculum early Tuesday morning just after midnight.
The new curriculum will affect students in grades third through eighth. Each grade level has a different education plan and will include lessons about sexual orientation and gender identity.
A total of 126 people signed up to give public comment at Austin ISD's vote meeting. The meeting started at 7 p.m., but public testimony regarding the sexual education curriculum changes did not get underway until just before 9:30 p.m.
Many comments stayed within the one-minute time limit, but despite that, the meeting continued into the early morning hours Tuesday.
Rallies outside the meeting got loud, with one person being taken into custody. Both sides chanted slogans for and against the curriculum changes, with some complaining the other side was getting too rowdy and not allowing all voices to be heard.
"The new curriculum touches on explanation, information on consent, boundaries and respect, how to engage with somebody you disagree with," Belinda Montgomery, a parent of two AISD students, said. "I think that that is really, really powerful."
Other parents didn't agree.
"The things that they are covering here are really scary, so we lost confidence in the school district," Jorge Ordóñez said.
The current sex-ed material for elementary and middle school students was put together nearly a decade ago.
"I hope obviously that they vote yes. And I hope that the community has actually had a chance to see the lessons for themselves now and so it's erased any of the misinformation," said Susanne Kerns, a leader of the Informed Parents of Austin group, which is in support of the new curriculum. "It's the information that all kids need to keep themselves physically and mentally safe throughout their entire lives."
In addition to sexual orientation, the proposed new curriculum includes lessons on pregnancy prevention, sexually transmitted diseases and consent. The curriculum is taught during the month of May to children in kindergarten to eighth grade. The new curriculum changes apply to third through eighth grade. Gender identity/expression, attraction and sexual orientation lessons would begin at the fifth-grade level.
"We wanted the curriculum to be inclusive because, as you've heard in Austin ISD, all means all, and we want every student being exposed to our curriculum to see themselves within that curriculum," said Kathy Ryan, AISD's director of academics.
The sex-ed curriculum hasn't been updated in nearly a decade. But not all parents or community groups are in support of the new lesson plans.
"It promotes a radical ideology that is in opposition to the values most Austin parents and families hold," said David Walls, vice president of Texas Values and an AISD parent. "There is a resounding concern that this radical, hyper-sexualized sex education is going to be problematic for the future generations of kids in this city."
"The majority of the people were comfortable with the lessons as they were. We got some feedback or tweaks they'd like for us to make here and there," Ryan said.
Some parents and religious advocacy groups said these types of topics aren’t appropriate for younger children and shouldn't be taught in school.
“The bigger picture is to normalize these behaviors and to teach them to children so that they can feel OK with engaging in these behaviors, but they are not,” said Caryl Ayala, director of Concerned Parents of Texas. “No child should be engaged in any kind of sexual activity.”
One parent, who has a child in sixth grade at Lamar Middle School, told KVUE in September she's happy to see the changes.
“I want solid knowledge and I know families do talk about this a lot but I know that that's not true for every single family, so the option needs to be out there and it needs to be comprehensive well-thought-out sex-ed curriculum," she said.
Parents do have the option to have their child opt-out. According to our partners at the Austin American-Statesman, the deadline to make that decision is in March.
Austin ISD released the following statement about how parents can opt-out of the curriculum:
"We are currently revising the opt-out letters to reflect the new topics and lessons. The opt-out letters will be posted by mid-November 2019 on the Health Education website. Last year's opt-out letters are currently posted. Principals will conduct a Parent Orientation meeting in March/April to discuss HSR policies, curriculum, instructional delivery and the opt-out process. Parents will be provided the opt-out letter at the meeting as well at least 3 weeks prior to instruction, which happens in May. Opt-out letter deadlines will be determined by the campus principal.
More information can be found at https://www.austinisd.org/pe-health/health-education.
The beginning of the year Parent Notification Letter has more information in it as well. Parents must provide a signature that they read this as a part of the electronic registration process. Those that register face-to-face are provided a copy of this letter."
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