Dozens of parents, educators, teenagers, and health professionals have urged the Texas state school board to reject high school health textbooks that promote abstinence as the only definitive prevention for pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, while relegating information on contraceptives to teachers’ manuals and supplementary materials.
At a hearing last month, more than 100 people weighed in on the debate over what middle and high school students should be taught about human sexuality. A majority of the speakers were critical of the texts. But some board members speculated that a second hearing, scheduled for Sept. 8, would bring a better balance of views because more proponents of the books would have their turn to speak.
The decision on the texts, expected this fall, could have implications for health education nationwide. Publishers tend to cater to the content demands of Texas—designing textbooks that meet the state’s academic standards—to ensure a take in the lucrative schoolbook market.
Meeting the Standard?
Three of the four textbooks being considered in Texas exclude information on contraceptives from the student editions, according to testimony from the hearing. The topic, however, is required by state academic standards in the subject and thus required in the texts.
“The complete omission of information on contraceptives makes these chapters unhealthy, in fact, dangerous, and possibly deadly for our students,” Janet Alyn, a San Antonio grandmother, told the board.
A state review panel had given initial approval to the four books—Glencoe’s Health, Meeks Heit’s Health and Wellness, Winston’s Lifetime Health, and the Delmar Learning Essentials of Health—because they technically met content requirements of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, or TEKS. The panel found that each of the standards for the subject is referenced at least three times in the overall textbook package, which could include student, teacher, and supplementary components.
The standard that has caused the most controversy, TEKS No. 7-I, according to state officials, requires that students “analyze the effectiveness and ineffectiveness of barrier protection and other contraceptive methods, including the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), keeping in mind the effectiveness of remaining abstinent until marriage.”
But at least one member of the review panel, who voted against the books in question, said that even though the texts may cover the topic, they do not meet the mandate for discussing and analyzing the topic of contraception.
“The textbooks are woefully lacking,” charged Bernard Kaye, the review panel member. “They do not convey the learning that is required in the TEKS.”
A majority of the panel members disagreed with Mr. Kaye as did several proponents of abstinence education who spoke at the hearing.
“These textbooks are excellent,” said Diane Hensley, a founding board member of the Texas Abstinence Council. “I believe the way they’re set up is exactly what the law in Texas had in mind.”
State board member Mavis B. Knight questioned whether the texts had the right balance of information between abstinence and contraception."How can you make an informed decision if you didn’t know there were other choices out there available to you?” she said during the hearing.
Publishers say the books present the material in the best way for teachers and students.
“The Glencoe health program includes information that’s mandated in state and local guidelines on condoms pertaining to sexually transmitted diseases in the supplements for the program to give educators control as to when and how to teach this information in a responsible way,” said April Hattori, a spokeswoman for the New York City- based McGraw-Hill Cos., which owns Glencoe. “Our programs send the message that abstinence is the expected standard for teens.”