After several months of deliberation, Dripping Springs ISD’s Student Health Advisory Council made recommendations to the district’s board of trustees on a new sexual education curriculum at the board’s May 20 meeting. Sex education was one of a range of topics touched on by SHAC, including recommended school security upgrades.
SHAC Chairperson Rob Satterfield served as the primary presenter to the board, recommending the Baylor Scott & White Adolescent Wellness and Sexual Health curriculum for seventh grade, with the addition of three chapters from Baylor Scott & White’s eighth grade materials on sex and the law, sexually transmitted diseases and contraception. Only seventh graders receive formal sex education in DSISD schools.
“This fits Texas state law; it fits with Student Health Advisory Committee laws mandated to us; and it fits within what parents said in this district that they wanted,” Satterfield said.
SHAC had initially been scheduled to present recommendations to the board in April, after voting to recommend the Baylor Scott & White curriculum without adjusting the scope and sequence of material. However, SHAC decided to hold additional meetings to parse out the particulars of the chosen curriculum and seek additional community feedback, postponing the board presentation until this month.
Many in the community found this decision process to be murky, as was expressed in the meeting’s public forum, when a number of parents and community members weighed in about the recommended curriculum, with some concerned that the eighth grade chapter material was inappropriate for younger students. Parent Colette Kraham further said that she felt the board had been unduly involved in the decision to include eighth grade content.
“I witnessed the process being manipulated behind the scenes to push for a particular outcome,” said Kraham.
The board has a non-voting liaison member on SHAC, trustee Shannon O’Connor, and the committee’s coordinator is Nicole Poenitzsch, assistant superintendent of learning and innovation for DSISD. Otherwise, SHAC is composed of parents and community members.
Other public commenters said they were disappointed that the chosen curriculum was not more comprehensive, particularly with its silence on LGBTQ issues and focus on abstinence.
“As a mom to two young girls, I really wish abstinence-based programs were effective. It would be amazing if they actually worked, but unfortunately they don’t help us meet those really important goals for the students,” said parent Ayesha Macon, referencing the goals of increasing the age of initiating sexual activity, avoiding teen pregnancy and avoiding transmission of sexually transmitted diseases.
A group of students also came to the mic, led by Dripping Springs High School student Colin Dewitt, representing the organization Students for Life. He said he supported the Baylor Scott & White curriculum because it was both rooted in science and aligned with the community’s values.
“Having been through sex education before, I can tell you that the change doesn’t come exactly in the fact that you’re going to influence our decisions, because you’re not,” said Dewitt. “I think all of you realize that kids kind of do what they will sometimes, but what you can instill in them is a sense of long-term values.”
Texas state law dictates that sex education curricula must be both abstinence-first and science-based. Baylor Scott & White’s curriculum meets these requirements, as did the other curriculum which was initially under consideration, such as FLASH, which takes a more comprehensive approach to LGBTQ topics.
“In this community, we have a wide range of values,” said former SHAC member and clinical psychologist Penelope Frolic, during public comment. “Some of the most cherished values of some go in direct conflict with the most cherished values of others. As a result, we’re all going to need to compromise some and be creative to solve this.”
Ultimately, Satterfield confirmed that SHAC would in fact hold one additional meeting—not to debate the general choice of the curriculum any further, but to discuss the inclusion of a particular slide in educational materials, as well as discuss SHAC’s by-laws. The slide in question addressed risk factors for contraction of HIV and had been suggested for removal by a member of SHAC who questioned the appropriateness of the way homosexuality was addressed as a risk factor on the slide.
However, SHAC co-Chairperson Sunny Ramirez gave a tearful speech to the board expressing her belief that the slide should be included, sharing her own family’s history with HIV.
“We owe it to our youth and society to tell them the truth. They need to know what can happen if we make certain choices,” Ramirez said.
The date for the additional SHAC meeting to address this final issue has not yet been set. The board of trustees will vote on the new curriculum at a future meeting once SHAC has presented all recommendations.