Parents of North East ISD sixth- through 12th-graders will be surveyed about health course offerings, giving input to school district officials who are mulling a proposal to drop health education as a high school course required for graduation.

The background

North East ISD leaders on March 18 confirmed that parents of NEISD middle and high school students will receive a digital survey link from [email protected] beginning March 26.

Anyone not receiving a survey may email [email protected] with their child’s student ID, first and last name, and a new email address to which the survey link can be sent. Here, parents are asked to type the words “board health survey" in the subject line, district officials said. The survey will close at 5 p.m. March 29.

A closer look

The state of Texas in 2009 stopped mandating high school health education as a mandatory graduation requirement, leaving it up to public school districts to offer the subject optional.

Area school districts, such as Judson and Comal ISDs, offer high school health as an elective. Middle school students are required by the state to receive health education.

The NEISD board on Feb. 12 voted 4-2 to create an ad hoc committee under the district’s School Health Advisory Council to study the proposal, gather survey responses, and make a recommendation to trustees this May. The committee includes seven board-selected parents or community members.

What they're saying

NEISD officials possibly dropping the high school health education requirement has gotten support from parents who said making the course optional would provide higher performing students space on their class schedule to take advanced placement courses.

NEISD parent Deanna Fencl on Feb. 12 said the district should swap out the required high school health class with a mandatory course on U.S. citizenship and the Constitution.

“In my opinion, health as a requirement to graduate isn’t making an investment into the future leaders of our country,” Fencl said.

NEISD parent Summer Broome on Feb. 12 said her son entered high school with five credits, but quickly realized he may have to spend time in summer school just to ensure he would graduate with all required courses, including health, on time.

“I do not want him to sacrifice taking a course that will help him narrow down what he wants to do for a career, making him more competitive in college applications and jobs, because he has to decide between taking that course and health,” Broome said.

Other parents, as well as health class teachers and students, have countered that many students could overlook subjects, such as nutrition, substance abuse awareness, mental health or sex education, in a key part of students' formative years.

Isabel Rodriguez, an International School of the Americas student, on Feb. 12 defended the high school health class, saying it would extend access to objective information on such things as sex education and physical health.

District officials have been scrutinized by parents, students and other people for their recent revamp of the School Health Advisory Council, especially how the panel reviews and recommends sex education and abstinence curriculum.

“School should give students medically accurate and unbiased information that will allow us to make safe choices,” Rodriguez said.

Trustees on March 4 heard from NEISD resident Maureen Molak, who created the nonprofit David’s Legacy Foundation after her son David died by suicide at age 16 in 2016.

Saying that her son endured cyberbullying prior to his death, Molak said keeping the health class requirement would remind students to check their mental and emotional health or share behavioral concerns.

“High school health class provides the opportunity for student discussion that is critical toward reducing the stigmas surrounding mental health, suicide and other safety concerns,” Molak said.

NEISD educator Tracey Rudnick, who teaches at Nimitz and Ed White middle schools, spoke at the Feb. 12 board meeting.

Rudnick urged trustees to keep the health class requirement, saying it could encourage stressed students to seek out counseling for depression, anxiety and similar mental and emotional challenges, and not just during their teenage years but into adulthood.

“We want them to cope with things such as divorce or loss of a job, and we want to show them not to turn to alcohol or other unhealthy methods,” she said.

Trustee Diane Villarreal said NEISD parents and their children should have more flexibility in their educational pursuits, adding that North East is losing students to other school systems that provide such latitude on courses.

“I think we need to do what our parents want, and I think for so long we have just kind of not done that,” she said.

Trustees Sandy Hughey and David Beyer voted against reassessing the high school health requirement. Beyer asked how students who may not choose health as an elective could still receive similar instruction.

Hughey said she worried about making sure students and district health teachers and professionals also have a say in the survey.

“I’m greatly concerned about changing high school requirements and their far-ranging implications,” Hughey said.