Dripping Springs ISD sex education discussion continues after SHAC postpones making curriculum recommendation

Assistant Superintendent of Learning and Innovation Nicole Poenitzsch (right), the coordinator of SHAC, updated the board of trustees on the committees progress on April 15.

Assistant Superintendent of Learning and Innovation Nicole Poenitzsch (right), the coordinator of SHAC, updated the board of trustees on the committees progress on April 15.

Dripping Springs ISD’s School Health Advisory Committee met April 16 to discuss details of the scope and sequence of a new sex education curriculum for the district. The group could recommend the Baylor Scott & White Adolescent Wellness and Sexual Health curriculum to the DSISD board of trustees in May.

SHAC had previously met April 1 in what was expected to be the final discussion on the curriculum, and voted 7-1 in favor of the Baylor Scott & White curriculum. However, SHAC elected to hold two additional meetings to discuss curriculum details and hear more public feedback before presenting a recommendation to the board.

“I feel like it was kind of chaotic and we kind of shorted the public the last time,” said Shannon O’Connor, the board of trustees’ liaison to SHAC.

The committee’s curriculum selection process, which began in February, has drawn attention from DSISD parents and community members. While SHAC considered a range of curricula prior to April 1, the two choices under final consideration were Baylor Scott & White and the FLASH curriculum. Feedback from the public indicated that parents generally favored the Baylor Scott & White curriculum as opposed to FLASH, which describes itself as being inclusive to students with a range of sexual orientations.

At the April 16 meeting, SHAC members discussed amendments to the scope and sequence of lessons for seventh graders, the group that will study sex education in DSISD schools. SHAC members decided to incorporate several chapters of a curriculum outlined for eighth grade classes into the seventh grade course, including a chapter on contraceptives. Other carryovers from the eighth materials include more detailed statistical information about sexually transmitted infections, according to SHAC.

The district also allows parents to opt a student out of curriculum lessons by giving teachers prior notification.

During public comment, several parents and community members expressed concern about the additions, particularly the presentation of information on contraceptives to a younger group.

“If you’re telling kids that they can be safe while having a condom on, that’s just wrong,” said community member Jeff Boswell.

Per Texas law, sex education curricula in public schools must be abstinence-plus, meaning students are encouraged first to remain abstinent, but instructed to mitigate risks of pregnancy and infection if they do choose to engage in sexual activity. Baylor Scott & White’s curriculum meets this requirement.

Several SHAC members cited feedback they had received last year indicating that many parents in the district thought contraceptive education was important to include in the curriculum, including Dawn Gibson, a SHAC member and Walnut Springs Elementary parent.

“I worked in a school for a long time," Gibson said. "I worked with pregnant and parenting teens in a district that had an abstinence-only curriculum, and we had a very high rate of pregnancy, pregnant teens and STDs. When you see a 12-year-old that’s become a father, it’s a problem, right? I feel like they need the information so they can make better choices.”

Parents also expressed frustration with a lack of transparency in SHAC’s curriculum selection process, citing confusion with the timing and purpose of additional meetings after the April 1 vote. Several parents said they were alarmed to hear about the additional meetings, thinking that SHAC might be putting FLASH under re-consideration; however, SHAC members confirmed that FLASH was no longer being considered.

“The parents spoke, then SHAC voted, and then the process started over again,” DSISD parent Collette Crown said. “My question is to you: how many times am I going to keep doing this?”

Other commenters expressed disappointment that alterations to the seventh grade Baylor Scott & White lessons were being considered after a vote had already been taken.

According to Nicole Poenitzsch, assistant superintendent of learning and innovation for DSISD and the SHAC coordinator, a summary of the committee’s revised curriculum recommendation will be made available to the public, with an invitation for further public comment. Due to copyright limitations, SHAC is not permitted to distribute the full curriculum to parents.

“What we’re going to try to do is be as clear as we can, get you those chapters and make it open to y’all,” said SHAC member Rob Satterfield, a Dripping Springs Elementary parent and current candidate for the board of trustees.

SHAC will finalize their recommendation at a meeting on May 14, and will present it to the board of trustees at the district's May 20 meeting. The board will vote on the recommendation at a subsequent meeting in June. If the board rejects SHAC’s recommendation, DSISD’s current curriculum, Healthy Futures of Texas’ Big Decisions curriculum, will remain in place.

DSISD comes to this process several months after Austin ISD’s board of trustees voted to update its own sex education curriculum, which was expanded in scope and sequence to include additional information about a range of sexual orientations and appropriate relationships.
By Olivia Aldridge
Olivia is the reporter for Community Impact's Southwest Austin edition. She graduated from Presbyterian College with a bachelor's degree in English and creative writing in 2017. Olivia was a reporter and producer at South Carolina Public Radio in Columbia, South Carolina before joining Community Impact in Austin.


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