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Influential Texas prepares for showdown over sex ed in schools

For the first time in two decades, the Texas State Board of Education is slated to make changes to its sex education curriculum, triggering a likely showdown between conservative and liberal state activists.

The last revisions to the health education standards were in 1997, and much of the debate is expected to revolve around issues of contraception, sexual orientation and gender identity.

The state board is holding its first public hearing on the issue Monday with a final vote on the changes in November.

Whatever standards the education board chooses could have implications beyond what Texas students learn. The state’s curriculum standards guide classroom instruction in schools and publishers use those standards to write textbooks for submission to the state board. Because of the size of the textbook market in Texas, the state’s new health standards are expected to influence what publishers include on sexual education topics and could affect what students learn in other states. Texas law requires schools that offer sex education to promote abstinence as the preferred behavior for unmarried students. Most of those lessons are relegated to middle and high school levels.

The proposed revisions remain focused on abstinence, but some groups are pushing for a more comprehensive sex education curriculum. Changes still could come, and it’s up to the state board to determine whether students should learn more and be introduced to topics earlier.

Curriculum work groups made up of school officials, teachers and health experts began the undertaking of the drafting revisions to the standards last September. The recommended revisions that will go before the board Monday include fifth graders learning about fertilization and sixth graders being taught about sexual intercourse. Students could learn about the effectiveness and ineffectiveness of contraception in seventh and eighth grades, which isn’t taught until high school under existing standards.

Currently, the draft revisions do not include any information about sexual orientation or gender identity.

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