The Austin Independent School District’s Board of Trustees voted early Tuesday morning to adopt new sex ed curriculum that expands topics taught to third through eighth graders.
New topics include gender identity and expression, sexually transmitted infections and anatomy, and they sparked hours of public testimony before the unanimous vote just after midnight.
Critics said the new lessons are inappropriate and shouldn’t be taught in school.
District 4 Trustee Kristin Ashy said before the vote, that while sexual health education is controversial for many families, children have so much access via the internet to learn about these topics. So, if families disagree with the content, they should utilize the opt-out policy.
“I am the parent of two children in AISD,” she said. “As their parent, I may or may not choose for either of them to participate. That is my choice, that I get to make, about my child, based on my views and my beliefs.”
She also encouraged parents to view the curriculum themselves online or at school libraries, rather than gleaning information from other people on social media.
Public comment included many people who disagreed with the gender identity and expression curriculum, and other LGBTQ topics. Barbara Bucklin, a community member in the Austin area, said before the meeting that this was one aspect she had a problem with.
“Should you be suggesting to a 5-year-old or an 8-year-old or a 10-year-old that maybe they’re not a girl?” Bucklin asked.
Other speakers during the meeting compared the curriculum to teaching children about pedophilia or bestiality, one person called LGBTQ people who march in Pride parades "gross," and many said that by adopting these lessons AISD was diminishing the religious values of parents in the district.
Trustee Arati Singh addressed some of these comments before the vote.
“I just want to tell [kids] directly that you heard a lot of hate tonight I think in this room,” she said while the crowd interrupted her and booed. “I want the students to know that their school is a safe place.”
A few students showed up to speak in favor of the curriculum, arguing the representation of LGBTQ people and relationships in the lessons could help young people accept themselves and others.
Kealing eighth-grader Addison McKenna said she was excited about the inclusivity of these lessons.
“I think sex ed needs to talk about every gender,” she said. “Because they talk about relationships only being between a man and a woman.”
Students will learn these new lessons starting in May. Schools will inform parents and guardians in March that the lessons will be happening soon, and at that time families can choose to opt out of any, or all, of the lessons.