It’s hard to imagine high school without health class, but starting this fall, that’s exactly what will be happening in school districts across Texas. Yes, it will now be possible to attend high school without ever squirming through a lecture on the birds and the bees, or gleaning any information whatsoever about STDs, pre-natal care, nutrition, diabetes, obesity, and the dangers of tobacco, alcohol, and drug abuse. Although individual school districts may choose to offer health education, the Texas Education Agency has eliminated the state requirement that they must do so. Only two other states in the country—Colorado and Oklahoma—lack a health education requirement.
Was this just a veiled way, I wondered, of doing away with sex education altogether? Abstinence education has been edging out comprehensive sex education for a while now, and what sex ed there still is has become laughably watered-down. As TEXAS MONTHLY senior editor Katy Vine wrote last year in her story on abstinence education (“ Faith, Hope, and Chastity,” May 2008): “No law mandates that methods of contraception be included in sex ed classes, and nowhere in the [Texas Education Code] is condom instruction encouraged. Only one of the four state-approved high school student health textbooks uses the word ‘condom,’ and that book reaches only a small percentage of the Texas market. Because the language of the code does not insist on condom instruction, schools are free to leave it out.”
When I asked the Texas Freedom Network—a non-profit watchdog group that monitors the far-right’s influence on public education in Texas—if the TEA had deliberately dropped the health class requirement so that sex ed would be less likely to be taught in public schools, TFN’s deputy director Ryan Valentine explained that that was not, in fact, the case. “We don’t think the decision to eliminate the health requirement has anything to do with sex ed,” said Valentine. “This is not a secret plot to eliminate sex ed altogether from Texas classrooms.” In essence, he explained, the TEA’s hands were tied; the education reform bill, HB 3, that passed this spring, mandates that high school students must take six elective courses, as opposed