The Austin Chronicle

Bill of the Week: Just Say No

By Jordan Smith, February 17, 2013, 3:39pm, Newsdesk

Plano Republican Rep. Jeff Leach is the man behind this week's BOTW, which would require an additional layer of parental consent for public school student participation in sex education classes that include curriculum provided by someone outside of the school.

The issue, Leach said earlier this month, is that kids "must not be exposed to third parties that seek to teach misguided and unreliable sex education in our classrooms." In reality, the only point appears to be finding a way to ban Planned Parenthood from providing and sexual health education or educational materials to public schools. Indeed, Planned Parenthood provides educational resources for teachers – including books, lesson plans, pamphlets, research materials, health educators, and more – and supports comprehensive sex education for all teens. Planned Parenthood is among a number of outside providers of sex education content used in some school districts across the state.

Leach's bill, House Bill 1057 – the so-called Texas Parental Control Accountability Act – adopts a definition of "affiliate" devised last year to oust Planned Parenthood from participation in the Women's Health Program, and uses it to ban from participation in public school sex ed classes any group deemed an affiliate of an abortion provider. Moreover, the bill requires school districts to obtain written consent from a student's parent or guardian each and every time that an outside speaker or material is used in sex ed classes. According to Mary McClure, Leach's chief of staff, the bill is necessary because Leach doesn't believe that public schools should be a "marketplace for the abortion industry and taxpayers should not be footing the bill for misguided and ineffective sex education instruction," she wrote in an email to the Chronicle.

That Texas schools are rife with misguided and ineffective sex education instruction is hardly a secret – though research suggests the misinformation isn't coming from Planned Parenthood. Indeed, recall the findings of the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund, which in 2009 and 2011 released an extensive report on the state of sex ed in Texas: a majority of Texas schools were teaching abstinence-only sex education, if they were teaching sex education at all. That approach hasn't exactly worked well: Texas teens, compared to the U.S. teen population as a whole, are more likely to have had sex at least once and are less likely to use a condom when they do; and Texas leads the nation in the number of repeat teen pregnancies.

Leach's proposal won't do anything to help the situation, says David Wiley, a professor of health education at Texas State and one of the authors of the TFN's 2009 report. "The practical impact is that it's going to reduce the number of kids who will get sex education instruction," he says. Regardless of topic, forcing parents to "opt in" creates a bureaucratic mess for educators and administrators and typically results in low return rates, he says. And under Leach's bill schools would have to send out separate notices for each outside speaker or material used – meaning if a teacher wanted to use an outside source or speaker in both the first and second weeks of class, for example, the teacher would have to send out two separate notices, each delivered to parents 14 days before the proposed instruction. According to TFN, roughly half of the 677 school districts across the state who responded to Texas Education Agency's 2010-11 School Health Survey reported using sex ed curriculum materials from outside vendors.

Indeed, Dan Quinn, TFN's communications director said that if Leach really wanted to help, he would support legislation that requires information provided to students in sex education to be medically accurate. Indeed, legislators have repeatedly failed to pass a bill that would do just that. And, Quinn notes, Leach's bill isn't exactly necessary since state law already requires public schools to inform parents about the content of sex ed classes and to allow them to review curriculum and to opt out of the instruction. "The only thing sex education has to do with abortion is making it less likely a teen will get pregnant and seek one," he said. "Lawmakers would do Texas families a big favor if they stopped trying to drag our public schools and health care into the abortion wars."

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