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Texas weighs climate change and sexuality in college textbooks

When the 15-member State Board of Education meets at its regular quarterly meeting this week, the elected group is expected to talk about how climate change and sexuality are taught to middle school students. This is part of a regular process that takes place every eight years.

But there is another topic that is not on the agenda that at least one board member says needs to be discussed, and that is how the board has a say in what sits on the shelf of a school library.

Last Monday, Governor Greg Abbott called on both the Texas Education Agency and the state Board of Education to remove books with “overtly sexual” content from school libraries and develop standards for this. who enters the libraries. The governor stepped in after state Rep. Matt Krause, a Republican from Fort Worth, launched an investigation in some school districts into the types of books students can access.

Ever since Krause published a list of about 850 books — most of which deal with race and sexuality — and began asking districts if they had them on the shelves, the question of who controls the textbooks not available in schools has not been resolved. The Texas Association of School Boards says the decision is up to local schools.

But at least one state board of education member, Pat Hardy, who represents Tarrant and Parker counties as well as part of Dallas County, said the board needs more clarity about its role. in these decisions.

“Just throw the hot potato our way and say, ‘You all take on this responsibility,’” she said.

Last week, school board chairman Keven Ellis said Texas public school families “should feel confident that their children are not at risk of encountering pornographic and obscene material while at school.” ‘school”.

But the exact form this assurance takes is unclear.

The state board usually works on standards that textbook publishers must meet. But as they tackle science and health standards this week, some similar topics that concern parents — and lately, lawmakers — will surface, mostly about sexuality.

Last year, the board approved expanding the state’s seventh and eighth grade health and sex education curriculum to include forms of birth control beyond abstinence and education about sexually transmitted infections. However, the Republican majority council was once again not more inclusive of the LGBTQ community, rejecting pressures to include lessons on sexual orientation, gender identity and consent.

At least one of the 13 textbooks the State Board of Education will review has additional material that touches on these topics — although teachers aren’t required to teach them. Once approved, they would then be available for school districts to adopt.

Dan Quinn, spokesman for the left-leaning Texas Freedom Network, said allowing the book to be adopted by school districts would give teachers a tool to talk about these topics.

Quinn’s group believes the board needs to revise its health program to include these topics. The council will meet from Tuesday to Friday.

“This vote is really a test of whether the Texas state board of education is past culture wars and political circuses,” Quinn said.

Hardy said she would have a hard time voting for a textbook that includes things that are not within state-approved standards. Hardy said parents have the ability to teach their children things that aren’t in state-approved standards.

“The standards we chose reflect what we heard from parents about what they wanted,” Hardy said.

The state board is also set to vote on new science standards for middle schoolers, with the most attention drawn to what eighth-graders are learning about climate change, Quinn said.

When the state board last passed new science-based standards in 2009, the then-president said climate change was a “lot of hooey.” More than a decade later, the current board made changes to its high school curriculum last year, with climate change being addressed in some high school courses and now set to do the same in colleges.

According to proposed science guidelines for grade eight, students should learn how “natural events and human activity can impact the global climate.” For Quinn and the scientists, this is where the problem lies. Human activity and natural events have, have and will continue to have an impact on the global climate. There is no “can”, he said.

Hardy said she likes the way climate change standards are currently worded because she wants children to learn about both the good and the bad that come from fossil fuels – like how they raised and supported the economy of Texas.

On Nov. 4, climate scientists across the state sent a letter to the state board urging them to revise the proposed program to reflect the fact that human activity such as the release of greenhouse gases has affected the climate. .

“Teaching about climate change not only prepares students for success at the college level if they choose to continue their education after high school,” wrote Andrew Dessler, professor of atmospheric sciences and holder of the Reta A. Haynes Chair in Geosciences. at Texas A&M. University. “It also helps students become informed voters who understand the issues and can make responsible decisions as we work together to find real solutions to the problem.”

Disclosure: Texas Association of School Boards and Texas Freedom Network financially supported The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations, and sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the journalism of the Tribune. Find a full list here.

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