Austin ISD

LifeGuard to the rescue

According to the Texas Freedom Network report on state public schools, the Austin Independent School District is among the 3.6% of districts statewide actually teaching information about contraceptives as part of its sex-ed curriculum – a program known as "abstinence-plus." But that doesn't mean all AISD students get the same information or that they all get medically accurate information.

In addition to the district-approved curriculum, which is required for all students and does include comprehensive information on sexually transmitted diseases and contraceptives, AISD allows health teachers at individual campuses to bring in guest lecturers related to sex ed. One of the outside groups approved by the district to speak to students is Austin LifeGuard, the abstinence-only "Character and Sexuality Education" program provided by Austin LifeCare, a Christian, faith-based crisis pregnancy center. ALC has been providing abstinence education since 1989 and is currently active in 10 Central Texas school districts, including AISD. Since September 2008, ALC has presented its LifeGuard training in a number of Austin schools, including Akins, McCallum, Reagan, and Austin high schools.

The curriculum provided to AISD by LifeGuard is general in nature and does not provide a very detailed examination of what is actually said in the classroom. The outline explains that teens will learn about, for example, the "emotional trauma" associated with premarital sex, the effects of premarital sex on a future marriage, and the "differences between arousal in males and females," but does not provide details on the content of those lessons. The submitted materials are vague yet nonetheless contain some of the common errors of fact found in other curricula – including that condoms have "no proven effectiveness" in reducing the risk of human papillomavirus infection and that "mutual masturbation and 'outercourse'" can result in pregnancy.

Curiously, AISD did not include the LifeGuard materials in its response to the TFN open records request. Why it didn't isn't exactly clear. Tracy Lunoff, the district's health services coordinator, said she couldn't say, because she wasn't the one that responded to the records request, and she added that the LifeGuard presentation isn't part of the approved district curriculum. And this year, she said, the group has also been removed from the list of approved speakers.

That does not mean that a principal at an individual campus wouldn't be allowed to approve a teacher's request to use LifeGuard, said Lunoff, and unless a teacher or principal or parent were to complain about the content of the lessons, there is no way for the district to track the content. Thus far, she hasn't received any complaints.

Report author David Wiley says that the AISD example documents why the TFN report may not in fact provide the entire picture of what's happening in Texas sex ed. "We don't know what's going on in the classroom," he said. "So when somebody asks us, 'Who has the best program?' it's hard to say, because I'm not 100 percent convinced that we got the truth from each and every district."

AISD, Wiley continued, "would be the classic example" of this problem. "And I can also make the case that at the district office level, they don't really know what is going on at their schools," he said. "It's a huge problem – a huge problem." Indeed, says TFN Deputy Director Ryan Valentine, the fact is that there are problems everywhere: "People think that this is only happening in small rural communities. They say, 'I live in Austin; my kids are not getting this.' But that's just not true."

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Austin ISD, David Wiley, Texas Freedom Network, 81st Legislature

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