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AISD Parents Weigh In On When Kids Should Learn About Sex, Pregnancy And Gender Identity

Hazel O'Neil for KUT

Let's talk about sex.

As the Austin Independent School District rewrites its sex ed curriculum for third- through eighth-graders, it asked for input from the community. AISD asked people in a November online survey what they thought should be taught to students – and when – in addition to hosting community meetings to discuss the standards. Those results are in.

All in all, 5,863 people responded to the survey, including parents, staff and community leaders at schools. Eighty percent of respondents were parents or guardians of students. 

Parents were able to indicate if they wanted a certain standard taught only in one grade, or if they wanted that concept to be taught in consecutive grades. Here are the results from the parent survey, which closed Nov. 30.

Grades 3-5

Survey respondents overwhelmingly agreed that lessons involving healthy communication and relationships should be taught in Austin elementary schools.  

Credit Austin Independent School District
The results of an Austin ISD survey asking when students should learn about the female and male reproductive systems. The top bar asked when students should be able to describe reproduction; the bottom bar asked when they should be able to identify sex organs.

One category of lessons that will be taught in elementary school is healthy relationships. These standards include defining healthy relationships, how to communicate in healthy relationships, how to treat others with respect and how finding trusted adults to discuss relationships could be helpful. More than 80 percent of parents said they want these lessons taught in third, fourth and fifth grades. 

There were similar responses for teaching standards about personal safety, which would teach students about bullying, in addition to showing them how to talk about bullying with adults and how to effectively communicate when they feel mistreated. An overwhelming majority of respondents said these should be taught in third, fourth and fifth grades.

Credit Austin Independent School District
A question from AISD's survey that asked respondents when it was appropriate for students to learn about and describe the human reproduction.

Respondents told AISD that they thought third-graders may not be prepared to learn about sexual harassment and abuse, suggesting the district wait until fourth or fifth grades to discuss these issues.

In subjects dealing with sexual orientation, reproduction and anatomy saw bigger splits among respondents. 

  • 52 percent said they don't want to define and discuss sexual orientation before fourth grade.
  • 66 percent of those surveyed didn't want to include lessons on the reproductive system before fourth grade.
  • 55 percent want to keep lessons on AIDS and HIV contained to fifth grade.

Grades 6-8

There was less of a divide about teaching these lessons in all three middle-school grades. In most cases more than 90 percent of parents wanted all lessons taught in all three grades. On issues of consent and sexual assault, roughly 80 percent of people said it should be taught in all three grades. 

Less than 20 percent of respondents didn't want lessons on gender identity and sexual orientation being taught in every grade at middle school. 

Fewer respondents supported discussions around reproduction and sexually transmitted diseases to be taught in all grades. For example, the prospect of teaching sixth-graders about emergency contraception only drew 64 percent support. Roughly 65 percent of respondents supported teaching sixth-graders about sexually transmitted diseases.

What's Next

The survey was a way to gather parent input on standards, and now the district's curriculum department will start writing specific curriculum for each grade level with that input in mind. They are expected to send this curriculum to the school board in February for approval. It will go into affect in spring of 2020, when AISD students typically learn about human sexuality.

The district is basing the new standards off the National Sexuality Education Standards, written by a group of nonprofits that advocate for comprehensive sex ed.

Claire McInerny is a former education reporter for KUT.
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