By SARAH DOOLITTLE, Four Points News
Four Canyon Ridge Middle School parents attended the Leander ISD School Board meeting Thursday to protest the contents of the seventh-grade LifeGuard sex education presentation. Additionally, parents were angry that an opt-out letter sent to parents, as well as the preview materials available in the CRMS library, did not accurately reflect the presentation’s contents.
Sex education presentations were to have begun at CRMS on December 4 and have now been postponed.
Veronica Sopher, LISD spokesperson, says that, for now, “We sent out a communication to our parents letting them know that there was an error in the materials that were made available to parents and the materials that were being presented, that they did not align. And that was an oversight. We apologized in the letter and we told parents that we would be delaying the presentations until we could look into it a bit further.”
Parents at the school board meeting were especially concerned that the presentation includes one slide that defines different types of sexual activity.
More than that, parents alleged that the District deliberately misled parents about the presentation in their opt-out letter, made available on the District website. The letter did not indicate that graphic definitions of sexual behaviors would be presented. The letter did indicate that the curriculum is abstinence-based, which it is.
Additionally, preview materials made available to parents in the library were out-of-date and did not include the slide in question.
Cindy Yates, who attended the meeting with her husband Mo, said that, “If they think this is the education that’s needed, stand up and say it. Give us the correct materials to look at. Give the correct opt-out program to look at. And say this is the studies, this is what’s going on in our schools, this is what we’re going to teach you. That’s not what they did.”
Mo added that, “Whether it was was malicious or whether it’s incompetence, neither of them are particularly acceptable.”
LifeGuard presentation is widely used
The LifeGuard presentation has been used in LISD for nine years, and the slide of sexual definitions was added approximately four years ago, according to Corey Tabor, Director of Austin LifeGuard, the organization that contracts with LISD to teach sex education.
He said the slide was added because, “For medical and legal accuracy, we need to define sex.”
The information on the slide defines different types of sexual activity including vaginal, oral and anal sex; mutual genital stimulation; and outer-course (stimulation of sexual organs without penetration).
Medically, students need to understand the range of behaviors that expose them to health risks such as sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy.
And legally, all defined behaviors are considered sex under the law and are illegal when non-consensual or with a minor (defined in Texas as anyone under age 17).
Austin LifeGuard works with nine school districts in 45 schools serving nearly 12,000 students ranging from middle to high school.
“We are approved by the School Health Advisory Committee, who has reviewed our curriculum,” Tabor said. He added that they field very few complaints from parents, maybe one or two a year.
Furthermore, LifeGuard also offers to districts a parent presentation to be shown in advance of the student presentation. LISD has made such presentations available in the past, but they were poorly attended. Austin LifeGuard welcomes the opportunity to show parents the presentation materials.
As for why the slides in the CRMS library were not up-to-date, Tabor explained that current presentation materials were given to the District and that LifeGuard is not allowed to place those materials in the schools themselves.
Tabor encouraged any parents with questions or concerns about the LifeGuard materials to contact him directly. He said parents who support these materials should also let their opinions be known to the District.
What is the law?
According to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (see sidebar), the presentation as written falls well within the law.
Besides the one slide, which defines sexual activity for legal reasons, there are multiple slides in the presentation that discuss and promote abstinence as the only 100 percent effective means of preventing STDs and pregnancy.
The presentation also discusses the larger, social-emotional implications of sexuality activity as a part of a student’s overall health and well-being.
Parents want answers
The Yates, who have a seventh-grade daughter at CRMS, and Carla George, another seventh-grade parent, have been digging deeper into the issue since it came to their attention last week. Their opinion of the materials? “I think this is a year too early,” said Cindy.
George explained her position thus. “Parents have a legal right to review the sex ed curriculum that will be presented to their children. I am thankful that LISD quickly postponed the program once it was brought to their attention that the materials available for parental review in the CRMS library did not closely resemble the actual curriculum and presentation. I also think the opt-out letter should be updated to better portray to parents what is actually included in the curriculum.”
Cindy previewed the outdated materials in the library and chose to opt-out. Still, she is grateful that George, “went further and thank God. Thank God because we wouldn’t have seen the content about what it was, and it wouldn’t have just been (my daughter) not going. It would have been kids going that parents were not informed of the content.”
“Every parent I have shown the PDF to, and the slide to… they by no means would have sent their kid to it,” Cindy said.
Had the presentation been accurately advertised, “We would have opted out, but I wouldn’t be mad… They’re lying to us about the content of the sex ed, it’s as if we are people to be ‘managed’ and not told the full facts because if we were told the full facts, we actually would opt out. They (the District doesn’t) want us to opt out,” Cindy said.
The District responds
LISD’s Sopher wants to assure parents that the District did not deliberately deceive parents. “No, we did not… It was on oversight.”
As for why the CRMS principal would not have reviewed the materials previously, Sopher said that, “It’s a centralized program facilitated out of the physical education department in the central office and is not part of the campus curriculum or campus purview… It’s a standardized operation, or process, District-wide.”
She said this also means the CRMS principal has not had previous complaints about the presentation. The District has received one complaint since its implementation LISD-wide.
What education is needed?
According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the two states with the highest rates of teen pregnancy — New Mexico and Mississippi — do not require any sex education in schools. New Hampshire has the lowest rate and does require full, comprehensive sex ed.
Texas has the third highest rate in the country, with 73 pregnancies per 1,000 teens.
Furthermore, sexual activity and transmission of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in Texas are irrefutable. The State of Texas published STD rates for 2010, and Travis County had the highest rates of gonorrhea and chlamydia infection in the state, also higher than national averages. For both infections, the majority of diagnoses were for people ages 15-24.
Though there will likely always be parents uncomfortable with the subjects covered, from Tabor’s point of view, schools teach sex education because, “The schools are involved in helping students learn how to maintain their overall health. And this is part of their health.” He pointed out that schools also educate students about healthy eating, drugs and alcohol, bullying and other health-related issues.
|What do the TEKS say about sex ed for seventh-graders?
From Chapter 115. Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Health Education
Subchapter B. Middle School
Statutory Authority: The provisions of this Subchapter B issued under the Texas Education Code, §§7.102(c)(4), 28.002(s), 37.001, and 37.0832, unless otherwise noted.