Austin ISD Trustees Support Sex-Education Update

New standards for K-8 address consent, sexuality, gender identity, and more

Yasmin Wagner (Photo by John Anderson)

The Austin ISD Board of Trustees had its first chance on Monday night to weigh in on the district's proposed revisions to its Human Sexuality and Responsibility curriculum. Staff briefed the board on the districtwide survey (mostly of parents) about the scope and sequence of topics, based on the National Sexuality Education Standards, that should be taught to K-8 students. Most trustees agreed that the new curriculum would improve how AISD prepares its students for navigating adult relationships and help protect and affirm the identities of vulnerable LGBTQ students.

The district's K-8 sexuality curriculum has not been updated in over a decade, and efforts to revise it began in 2012. The board is likely to approve the scope and sequence – a sort of outline of what the specific lessons will teach students – at its Feb. 25 meeting, at which point AISD will seek and contract with providers to help write the lessons themselves. The board will likely have to vote again to approve those, but teachers would be trained this summer and fall to begin teaching the new curriculum in 2020.

New concepts in the proposed curriculum include a more modern approach to consent, the effects of social media on body image, and medically accurate terminology for human anatomy, but all lessons would retain the focus on abstinence that is required by state law. Some topics have caused distress among more conservative parents, as expressed in comments provided in the survey, which was designed to get feedback on when (not if) the standards should be taught to children of different ages, according to AISD Director of Academics Kathy Ryan. Both staff and trustees repeatedly pointed to state and district policy allowing students to opt out of sex ed, instead receiving lessons on social and emotional learning.

Trustees broadly conveyed support for the changes, though some voiced concern about voting on the scope and sequence without knowing what specific lessons will include. Trustee Kristin Ashy said her constituents want to know how the new curriculum would determine when a topic is "developmentally appropriate" for students. The board also applauded the new curriculum's impact on LGBTQ students, while addressing lingering discomfort. "We're not sexualizing children by creating an affirming environment that [gender identity] choices exist," Trustee Yasmin Wagner said of the proposed middle school standards. "We're taking a portion of kids that have a significantly higher rate of suicide and self-injury [and saying] that these lives do exist and can be lived in a healthy way." Trustee Arati Singh was more matter-of-fact: "Gay marriage is legal." She acknowledged that LGBTQ issues may still make some people "squeamish," but said kids who identify as queer have more to lose than do parents who find those topics uncomfortable. "In my mind, there's no comparison."

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Austin LGBTQ, Austin ISD, LGBTQ, sex education, Human Sexuality and Responsibility, National Sexuality Education Standards, Kathy Ryan, Kristin Ashy, Yasmin Wagner, Arati Singh

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