Students in more than 80 percent of public school districts in the state are being taught only about abstinence in sex education programs, or aren’t being taught sex education at all, according to a study released Tuesday by the left-leaning Texas Freedom Network.
The numbers represent a small improvement over results seen eight years ago, when 96 percent of districts taught abstinence as the preferred form of sex education, if anything was taught.
“When it comes to sex education, Texas is failing our students and their families,” Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller said at a Capitol news conference. “We have to trust young people with the information they need to make wise decisions about their reproductive health and their future.”
Nearly 1 in every 20 girls in Texas between the ages of 15 and 19 gave birth in 2014, the most recent federal data available — the fifth-highest teenage birth rate in the country.
At the news conference, state Rep. Mary González, D-Clint, announced the filing of House Bill 1547 that would ensure students are being taught “medically accurate, age-appropriate” curricula in sex education classes.
“We say we don’t want abortion, but we’re also not providing sex education that’s actually limiting teen pregnancy,” González said. “Parents don’t have all of the information. Schools can really supplement that.”
Since 1995, the state has left decisions on how to teach sex education to local school boards, although any material or curricula must focus on abstinence.
About 6 out of 10 high school seniors have had sex at least once, despite many not receiving education about condoms and other forms of contraceptives, according to David Wiley, a Texas State University health professor who helped author the study, based on surveys of Texas’ 10 largest school districts and to a sample of 148 other districts.
School districts across the state typically use health science courses to teach students about sex education, but that class hasn’t been a statewide requirement for graduation since 2009, although school boards can still require the class as a local graduation requirement, Texas Freedom Network members said Tuesday.
Health science is required to graduate in the Austin school district, where students are taught that abstinence is preferred over sexual activity as long as parents sign-off on the material, district spokeswoman Tiffany Young said.
In the Round Rock district, high school health students learn about abstinence as well as contraceptives, spokesman Corey Ryan said. Middle school students are also taught by teachers trained under a sexual health and wellness curriculum, although they aren’t taught about contraceptives, Ryan said.
Wiley said the focus on abstinence-only education in public schools centers around a fear educators and some in the community have with students hearing about birth control and condoms in class.
“Young people are carrying a computer in their pocket where they can easily find sexual information with two clicks of a mouse,” Miller said. “We’re not really sure why we’re all so worried about teachers giving students basic information.”