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Nichole Reece Commentary: Temporary Pause on Sex Ed at North East ISD May not be what it Appears

Nichole Reece Commentary: Temporary Pause on Sex Ed at North East ISD May not be what it Appears

Recently, North East ISD board of trustees voted 6-0 to temporarily pause classroom instruction on high school and middle school sexuality education curriculum. One trustee abstained.

Staff assured the board the materials will still be available for parents to access, if they wanted to use them.

The decision results in no loss of access to the material, only a temporary shift from who would be delivering it. Access to such materials always was, and remains, at the parent’s discretion.

When you further understand NEISD’s history, the pause is not particularly newsworthy.

According to a mom whose child is enrolled at NEISD, the district had also paused sex ed for two semesters.

“It was during Spring of 2020 and Fall of 2021, when kids were learning from home in the presence of parents,” she said. “The board didn’t even vote to pause it then,” the mom pointed out, “It went away. Parents didn’t care. It wasn’t missed.”

Nonetheless, the San Antonio Express-News published two articles in as many days regarding the board’s vote as though it were major news. (here and here)

The Express-News conveyed displeasure for the vote, ending its second article with the following claim, which seemed to agitate more than report:

“Upsetting” was a mild way to describe the decision’s effect on the parents who took to Twitter this week to express their anger at what it will do to students.

It’s unclear to what the writer was referring. At the time of publication, it was mostly a handful of employees of the paper who had shared the article on twitter, with even fewer comments by non-parents, some in favor of the decision.

It was a far cry from angry parents venting on twitter.

But here’s what proper context would make clear: Even if there had been a strong reaction, it would be artificial. Remember, the curriculum had already been paused for two semesters and no one missed it. It’s like the district inadvertently set up a controlled experiment, and found the curriculum isn’t that important to parents.

Maybe because since the dawn of humanity, children have learned the facts of life from their parents and grandparents. It’s their job. Maybe parents and guardians recognize it as an opportunity to return to a more natural way of passing on such important information, rather than signing forms that allow their children to have sexual conversations with adults outside their family, a parental decision that can be confusing to a child.

A Closer Look at What Really Happened

NEISD PE/Health Director Jennifer Aguilar made the recommendation to the board stating the new TEKS were not fully met with the curricula.

“Once [Aguilar] explained that, it was easy for me to see that we needed to pause the curriculum,” board President Shannon Grona is quoted as saying, in one of the Express-News articles.

“Parents show the board evidence for years and nothing but mistreatment, it’s not right,” said one parent after reading this quote.

A key point missed by the Express-News is Aguilar’s answer, in response to a question by veteran board member Sandy Hughey, that the curricula did not totally fulfill the old TEKS either.

The public has a right to know how board after board permitted the expenditure of public funds to fight parent complaints about sex ed curriculum’s alleged illegality, according to multiple sources, while not meeting the TEKS the whole time, anyway.

Following the board’s vote, the Express-Newsreported some statements from Trustee David Beyer. These quotes might trouble parents and NEISD staff.

One, “I would hate for a student who went looking for these materials to be unable to find them,” Beyer reportedly said.

Analysis: A student could not go looking for these materials; they could not find them through the school without parental permission. It would be against the law. The materials are fully available to parents who, for some reason, wanted to read hot-and-heavy scenes to their 12 and 13 year old children as the curriculum requires.

Two, Beyer is quoted as saying he, “would hate for a teacher to get caught in a situation where, maybe they were up late last night writing new curriculum, and it just slipped in the lecture. The next thing you know, there’s a parent thinking we’re trying to do something we’re not.”

Analysis: This hypothetical could only happen if a teacher was rogue. All sex ed must be board-approved. There can be no teacher staying up late to write curriculum. This statement seems to gaslight parents who are attentive, rather than reflect an understanding of teacher requirements to adhere to law and policy and a board members’ responsibility to enforce both.

Three, Beyer is quoted as saying, “We’ll have to rely on our counselors to identify those kids that might need that information and try to get it to them.”

Analysis: Counselors may not survey, inquire, or otherwise assess a student’s “need” for information on human sexuality behaviors, nor may counselors “get information to them” about sex or sexuality without parental permission. Beyer expresses his position in the “we” language as if it’s the entire board of trustees’ hope that NEISD counselors cross those lines.

All these comments raise legitimate questions, including those about board members’ basic understanding of school law.

Is the Pause Cause for Anger, Celebration, or Something Else?

NEISD not teaching sex ed is cause for celebration, according to parent advocates and to the San Antonio Family Association, which had raised concerns about the middle school curriculum for years.

“SAFA’s work in the NEISD since 2015 is bearing good fruit!” said the organization’s public statement. “Children will be protected from enduring these and parents will have some online access…Parents should be able to see how bad these programs actually are. Unfortunately, Trustee David Beyer thinks students should have access to learning about promiscuity,” adding that “young people engaging in sexual activity … is not healthy for them.”

According to someone familiar with the issues, while there is cause for momentary relief, parents would be wise to stay on guard after hearing the presentation and board commentary.

“It seemed contrived,” said an NEISD parent who wished to remain anonymous. “After the SHAC removed citizens just this month from its public meeting who were not causing a disturbance, and after passing health textbooks in what seemed the dark of night, I think this public vote was just an excuse to later pass a very specific curriculum.

“I have a feeling someone is going to ride in on a white horse and tell the SHAC they found the perfect solution.”

What might that solution be? The highly controversial Goodheart-Willcox companion text for human sexuality, co-authored by none other than NEISD’s former PE/Health instructional specialist Melissa Munsell. Munsell was instrumental in the operations and work of the SHAC. She was a driving force in the selection and adoption of sex ed curricula which was just revealed to have been falling short on the former TEKS.

Munsell left NEISD not long before the SHAC was given Goodheart-Willcox Health materials (minus a section on human sexuality) to consider for adoption, which the board ultimately approved. Public records reveal that some reviewers for the district who voted for former colleague and friend Munsell’s 800 page curricula recommended it after being logged into the district’s preview system for mere minutes. If they read more, there is no public record to demonstrate that.

A thorough review would take weeks. The process warrants reform.

Parents United for Freedom PAC, had members present at the board meeting. This grassroots group of parents was formed in response to school board overreach into parental authority and the desire to return to the basics and stop politicizing education.

“We try to encourage parents to attend board meetings. It’s so important our public servants see parents and residents in the audience, or they think we don’t care what decisions they make,” said a spokesperson for the group.

“We also want to show support to the three newest board members who are slowly creating positive changes, or at least shifting the conversation to try to include parents, take care of employees and students in ways we haven’t seen in years. Though they are the minority, their leadership and courage give us a lot of hope for our district.”

As for the decision of the board on the sex ed, Parents United for Freedom spokesperson said, “It remains to be seen what will come of it. Unfortunately, we have concerns as to why this passed so quickly and without going through the SHAC. There are a lot of questions.”

Final Word on Parents

Back in March during the grievance where the parent wanted the board to consider lack of full legal compliance of a sex ed, Board President Shannon Grona, challenged the parent. In a tone loaded with condescension, she stated, “The allegation is pretty serious, that the district has adopted a curriculum that violates the law, has been doing so for many years, and I want to know how you can substantiate that allegation….”

When the parent offered to show the slides that showed the justification for legal concerns, Grona’s reply, “no” could not have come back faster.

But this month when Aguilar presented verbal claims of incomplete compliance with TEKS, Grona did not ask for substantiation. She was not condescending to her. She did not say a word about the “allegation” that the curriculum had for many years been noncompliant with the TEKS. Instead, the vote was quick and painless in favor of the staff request.

Across the state we see this.

Administrative staff over parents, every time. Those in positions of power are believed, parents aren’t, every time.

This is the backwards state of too many school boards in Texas. Board members are community members who live among us, shop among us. When no one is watching them closely, the publically-funded PR and legal machines can cover a lot of sins.

It’s clear they don’t want the attention from the public, but the more we watch, and unite as a community, the more pressure it puts on all board members to act in a way consistent with the public images they enjoy and claims they make about themselves.

Besides winning school board elections, if we want to see more accountability, we need to be partnering together with natural allies. Parents and teachers must come together over their common love for students. They must be open to stepping outside their comfort zones and joining grassroots organizations.

When each person moves a few pebbles, the mountain will shift.

Beyer did not respond to a request for comment.

Grona, Hughey, and Beyer are in the middle of a 4 year term.

The next NEISD election is May 2024.


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