NEISD Improves Sex Ed, Conservative Christian Group Flips Out

Al Greer via Flickr creative commons

A pro-life group in San Antonio has plastered the North East Side Independent School District's name on seminars the group is holding around the district to spread false information about the NEISD's newly-adopted sex ed curriculum.

In May, NEISD slightly tweaked their sex ed curriculum for 6-8 graders to include mention of proper condom use. Parents are able to opt out of the program, by the way. It's not required. And naturally, when a right-wing religious group called the San Antonio Family Association found out about it, they promptly got very upset. Now they're hosting seminars for parents in which they claim NEISD is promoting anal and oral sex. They've even been telling parents the curriculum may violate child exploitation laws (which, of course, isn't true). 

SAFA, which you might have seen flashing signs featuring aborted fetuses at the city's annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day march, is hosting a series of meetings titled "NEISD Sex Ed Parent Education Seminar" and has even sent out robocalls to NEISD parents advertising the event.

NEISD Executive Director of Communications Aubrey Chancellor tells us the district has sent two letters to SAFA asking it to stop spreading misleading information about the program. "A lot of our community thought they were NEISD meetings," she said. "I've heard the robo-call. It says we're promoting oral and anal sex." Chancellor tells us the district has even sent a letter to all of the district's middle school parents debunking the organization's claims. 

NEISD's curriculum complies with a state law that requires the promotion of abstinence as the only 100 percent effective way to prevent STDs and pregnancy, Chancellor said, explaining that the district reconsiders its sex-ed curriculum every three years and chose this program because it mentions condom usage. Chancellor says the district provides factual information about sex to teach students how STDs are transmitted. That includes anal and oral sex. The district's policy, however, is that abstinence is the best option.

This is hardly a departure from the district's previous curriculum. The only difference is that teachers will now use a CDC-approved script to teach students whose parents choose to let them take the class on how to use a condom, Chancellor said. "That is the only difference." The curriculum is optional and students are only enrolled into classes if their parents sign a permission slip.

At a recent SAFA seminar at the Brook Hollow Library on the city's North Side, a group of maybe 20 people, who mostly appeared to be SAFA members, gathered in a small meeting room where an offshoot of SAFA called the San Antonio Coalition For Life held the first of its anti-sex ed seminars. On display against the back wall was a supposed "educator's kit" the school would use, complete with a brown dildo and a bag of condoms — which, as Chancellor told us, is not something NEISD uses in its sex-ed classes. 

Two middle schoolers were actually present at the seminar, so SAFA members didn't unveil their brown dildo display until the kids left the room (members said they were there as an example to the audience of what age-range the curriculum targeted). 

The presentation began with allegations that NEISD's curriculum violates state law since it's teaching children younger than 13 about sex; the group's members said they've come to this conclusion because they believe sex ed encourages kids to have sex. SAFA referenced a Texas law meant to protect children from exploitation that makes sex with children illegal to back their claim.

San Antonio Coalition For Life organizer Kellie Gretschel even took it a step further, saying that instead of teaching sex ed, the curriculum should be used to educate children about the state's pedophilia laws. "Anytime a kid that age is having sex, they're probably being abused, and teaching kids how to use condoms would help the abuser," she said. 

SAFA members also accused NEISD of illegally approving the curriculum, which isn't true. SAFA claims NEISD signed a contract with the curriculum's manufacturer before the district's board voted on it — which, again, isn't true. The group then criticized a part of the curriculum that teaches students how to respond to peer pressure in situations where drugs and alcohol could be present, saying NEISD should be teaching kids to avoid drugs and alcohol instead — which the district does. One thing became clear: as far as SAFA is concerned, conversations with middle schoolers about drugs, alcohol and sex should be off limits. 

The group also accused the district of encouraging a student who may be pregnant to circumvent their parents and call a doctor to get a morning after pill. Their reasoning: a pamphlet that says teens should call a doctor if they think they are pregnant. 

While the district's curriculum continues to emphasize abstinence, NEISD's decision to include factual information about condom use appears to be a step in the right direction. As the Texas Freedom Network explained in a 2011 report, the Lone Star State has long been the poster child for abstinence-only sex education, which omits or discourages referencing condoms and other forms of contraception. As the Guttmacher Institute notes, strong evidence exists that comprehensive sex education actually delays sexual activity and reduces sexual risk-taking. Abstinence-only education, on the other hand, doesn't delay sex and can place young people at an increased risk of pregnancy or STDs, according to the institute.

Not only that, there are very real consequences to abstinence-only curriculum that leaves out important information about contraception. In Bexar County in 2013, 2,558 teens aged 15 to 19 gave birth to a child. That's a 21 percent decline from 2010, when 3,252 teens gave birth. Metro Health officials have attributed the decline to evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention initiatives, which includes comprehensive sex education — not abstinence-only programs.

Take, for example, the tiny West Texas town of Crane. In 2015, the town's high school, which had a population of 300 students, made headlines because of a Chlamydia outbreak. Can you guess what the district's approach to sex education was? It wasn't comprehensive. Instead, the school used a three-day abstinence-only curriculum that made no mention of condom use. 

SAFA, however, doesn't seem too concerned with such facts. Take their problems with a lesson plan called "Herman uses a Condom," which NEISD explicitly told SAFA will not be used by the district.

The lesson plan follows a 19-year-old man and an 18-year-old woman who decide to use a condom when they have sex. The lesson plan lays out the dos and don'ts of condom use and explains why they are effective at preventing pregnancy. It also teaches about STDs and what to do in case someone thinks they have one. It offers advice for what teens should do in case they are sexually pressured by a peer. And it tells teens exactly what steps to take if they think they're pregnant.

Gretschel spent a solid 20 minutes telling the small crowd that this lesson is damaging to children and will teach them how to have sex (plus, as we said earlier, NEISD's sex ed curriculum doesn't even use this lesson). Gretschel continued: "North East ISD says they will not be using this particular lesson plan, but like I say you can pop a hood ornament off a Ford, but you are still driving a Ford." 

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