Dear Dr. Cruz – Austin Students Need Comprehensive, Medically Accurate Sex Ed NOW

Dear Dr. Cruz,

I was disappointed to receive a letter from Dr. Goodnow stating that despite an overwhelmingly favorable vote on the SHAC Health Subcommittee’s recommendation to move forward with the proposed revised human sexuality and responsibility curriculum, there will be a one-year delay in implementing this curriculum.

I was at the June 6th SHAC meeting where the proposal was presented and have been at almost every SHAC meeting during the 2017-18 school year. During the public comment period of each of these meetings, I have used my two minutes to share my support, as well as the support of the almost 1,000 members of the Informed Parents of Austin Group, for comprehensive sex education that is inclusive of the needs of LGBTQ students.

During those public comment periods I have also listened to the comments from “Concerned Parents of Austin” (CPA) attendees who oppose comprehensive sex-ed and LGBTQ inclusion programs.

The CPA group is affiliated of Mass Resistance Texas, an extremist anti-LGBTQ group which tries to brand itself as “pro-family.” The Southern Poverty Law Center identifies Mass Resistance Texas as an anti-LGBTQ hate group.  They have spent the past year fighting the bathroom bill, working to remove Human Rights Campaign’s Welcoming Schools Program from AISD schools, and protesting libraries that carry books with even the slightest reference to LGBTQ topics. Their representatives have also made it their mission to fight LGBTQ inclusion programs in Texas schools.

The materials that the Concerned Parents group have distributed at the SHAC meetings I have attended come from three extremist groups.

  • Family Watch International (FWI): The Southern Poverty Law Center has also labeled FWI as an extremist/hate group: “Family Watch International works within the United Nations and with countries around the world to further anti-LGBT and anti-choice stances. Founder Sharon Slater promotes anti-LGBT pseudoscience that includes the falsehood that homosexuality is a mental disorder derived from childhood trauma, and that so-called “conversion therapy” can effectively eliminate same-sex attraction.”
  • The Medical Institute: The CPA also handed out brochures intended to “educate” kids about why condoms don’t work, which were developed by Medical Institute, based in Austin, TX. According to an article in The Nation, “The newly renamed Medical Institute (formerly known as the Medical Institute of Sexual Health), for example, touts itself as being founded to confront the global epidemics of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections…Although this may sound innocuous, the Medical Institute is a hard-core abstinence-only organization. Its advisory board reads like a Who’s Who of purity pushers. Even W. David Hager–a former Bush appointee to the FDA’s advisory board on reproductive health, who suggested prayer as a cure for PMS and whose ex-wife alleged in The Nation that he had repeatedly raped her [“Dr. Hager’s Family Values,” May 30, 2005]–is listed.”  You can find additional information about The Medical Institute’s spread of misinformation in this article from Slate.com.
  • The Institute for Research and Evaluation: CPA also quote extensively from “The Institute for Research and Evaluation” a group which is dedicated to removing comprehensive sex-ed programs in favor of abstinence only programs. One of their clients is LifeGuard, an Austin based “sex-education” provider.

According to your Strategic Plan for 2015-2020, the top three AISD values are:

  • Whole Child, Every Child
  • Physical, social, and emotional health, and safety
  • Equity, diversity, and inclusion

The Concerned Parents group and any group with the mission of promoting the idea that gender is binary and that LGBTQ students, parents and staff are unnatural and immoral are completely at odds with these values. Human sexuality curriculum that does not cover the unique needs and issues of LGBTQ students further isolates these students, putting them at even higher risk for low attendance and higher risk for suicide. It also results in another generation of cisgender students who lack awareness and understanding for their LGBTQ classmates.

In addition to the LGBTQ students who will suffer from this one-year delay in receiving medically accurate, comprehensive human sexuality instruction, all AISD students are at risk of and additional year of increased rates of sexual abuse, not understanding their own power of consent, or taking part in unsafe sexual activity which results in a sexually transmitted disease or pregnancy.

I understand that you have to balance the input of parents with the needs of students, but I’m also confident that you will come out of this one-year comment period knowing the same thing you already know: there is a group of vocal people who believe that giving students the tools and language to understand their own bodies will damage their innocence. There are also groups of people who believe those who are LGBTQ are immoral or unnatural. A one-year delay will not change either of these things. Collecting the input from these groups over the course of the next year will not give you any information you do not already have.

Parents like me look to AISD leadership and AISD committees like the SHAC board to compile all of the most recent and accurate research to help guide curriculum decisions that benefit the entire AISD student body. Parental input is important, but a vocal minority should not supersede the advice from the subject-matter experts who understand the importance of human sexuality education.

I am disappointed that in this instance, AISD leadership did not lead from a place of those first three values of your mission, especially around students’ health and safety as well as diversity and inclusion.

 

Sincerely,

Susanne Kerns

Informed Parents of Austin

Note: I started writing this letter to AISD’s District Superintendent, Dr. Cruz after receiving a letter from Dr. Goodnow, Associate Superintendent of Academics and Social & Emotional Learning for AISD, informing me that AISD will be delaying the implementation of its new, comprehensive, human sexuality curriculum by a year.  (Letter shown below.)

I’m sharing it here because I want to ensure that in addition to Dr. Cruz, other parents are also aware of the campaign of misinformation and hate around this topic. Although there are parents and teachers with legitimate questions about AISD’s proposed human sexuality curriculum, there is also a larger, organized, very vocal group, (many of whom do not even live in Austin,) who are working hard to ensure that students do not have access to scientifically accurate information about their bodies, their health or their sexuality, especially if those students are LGBTQ.

If you would like to show your support for comprehensive human sexuality education and programs that support the needs of LGBTQ students and families, you can contact:

Dr. Cruz: superintendent@austinisd.org

Social & Emotional Learning: Dr. Goodnow: lisa.goodnow@austinisd.org

School Health Advisory Council: tracy.spinner@austinisd.org & viviansballard@gmail.com

Director of Academics: kathy.ryan@austinisd.org

Board of Trustees: trustees@austinisd.org

12 thoughts on “Dear Dr. Cruz – Austin Students Need Comprehensive, Medically Accurate Sex Ed NOW

  • August 2, 2018 at 4:48 pm
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    The irony, Susanne, is that you don’t seem to realize that you are an intolerant bully. Everyone is entitled to their beliefs, not just those who agree with you.

    Reply
    • August 5, 2018 at 10:51 pm
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      You are right that I am intolerant of anyone who believes that a person’s rights should be based on who they love. I’m also intolerant of anyone who has the nerve to question someone else’s gender identity. I’m also intolerant of people who actively fight to ensure that not ALL families are represented and celebrated in schools.

      Bully, on the other hand, I don’t get that one. I do my best to lift up and speak on behalf of the LGBTQ community through awareness and education not through *fighting* with those who don’t agree with me. I would be curious to know specifically how you feel like I’m being a bully.

      Reply
  • Pingback:Does AISD’s #NoPlaceForHate Have Limits? – Informed Parents of Austin

  • August 31, 2018 at 5:47 am
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    Hi Susan!

    I have a few questions regarding your letter to Dr. Cruz and was hoping you could clarify some points.

    1. You cite “all AISD students are at risk of and additional year of increased rates of sexual abuse, not understanding their own power of consent, or taking part in unsafe sexual activity which results in a sexually transmitted disease or pregnancy.” Can you specify precisely how are all AISD students at risk for these things, since all of this is already in the current curriculum, and has been for years?

    2. You cited the SPLC. Are you aware that the SPLC’s credibility is, to put it politely, speculative, and that they were just recently ordered by courts issue a public apology and pay millions of dollars in damages to a Muslim activist for labeling him a “hate group”? Can you please clarify how the tactics used by SPLC are any different than the tactics used by Mass Resistance?

    3. “Collecting the input from these groups over the course of the next year will not give you any information you do not already have.” Are you aware of the laws in the State of Texas regarding sex ed? Can you clarify why you believe that AISD should not be required to follow those laws as clearly stated in the Texas Education Code? Are there any other laws in the Education Code you believe should also be ignored? Are you okay with schools refusing information to parents regarding curriculum?

    4. “Parental input is important, but a vocal minority should not supersede the advice from the subject-matter experts who understand the importance of human sexuality education.” The number of parents speaking at the June SHAC meeting regarding the curriculum was about a 50/50 split, and a petition objecting to the new curriculum was circulated that gathered around 1,500 signatures in less than a week’s time. Therefore, could you kindly clarify, mathematically, your use of the phrase “minority”?

    Thanks, looking forward to your response!

    Reply
    • September 11, 2018 at 10:00 pm
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      Wow – You weren’t kidding about having some questions! 😉

      1. My primary concern is with the 1 year delay in reaching the younger grades that the revised curriculum would reach (revisions planned for grades K-8, upper grades staying the same.) 20% of girls and 8% of boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18, the majority between the ages of 3 & 8. The new curriculum teaches kids to advocate for their own physical boundaries, plus learning the proper names of body parents will enable them to accurately report abuse if it does occur. And of course, revisions to address the needs of LGBTQ students at any age will literally save lives. 45% of trans kids ages 18-24 have tried to kill themselves by suicide in their lifetime. Educating them, and equally important, educating their peers that they are valuable, worthy and loved simply cannot wait another year.

      2. If you have issues with SPLC as a source, simply go to any of the sites for the groups mentioned and look with your own eyes and tell me that they are not sharing messages of hate and intolerance.

      3. AISD should definitely follow the laws regarding implementing curriculum and my understanding is that everyone involved believes(ed) they have(had) followed the policies – That being said, perception is reality, so I do think as much transparency as possible is important as they move forward. I think that a lot of the leg work on the revised curriculum could still be put in motion as input is collected and that it shouldn’t be an all or nothing stop in progress. Even if the new curriculum did roll out as intended for the 2018/19 school year, parents would have had the entire school year to review all of the lessons plans in their individual school libraries to decide if they wanted to opt their child out of any/all of the lessons.

      4. The petition that was shared from the group opposing sex ed had zero filters to distinguish whether the signatures were from AISD residents, parents or even from Texas. Since many of the supporters signed using their Facebook accounts, it was easy to see that many of the signatures, if not most of them, were from California, Dallas and other areas far outside of AISD. Every single person who signed our petition supporting sex ed had to note if they were a current AISD parent (all but a handful were, and most of those had children entering AISD within the next year or who just graduated.) Research shows that “Over the past 20 years, in survey after survey, local, state or national, 80 to 85 percent of parents indicate they want their children to receive comprehensive, medically accurate, age-appropriate sex education.” But when it comes down to it, even if it was truly a 50/50 split, I trust the vast majority of pediatric and social work experts who agree that comprehensive, medically accurate sex/health education is important for all kids.

      Reply
  • August 31, 2018 at 5:58 am
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    Ooops, two more.

    1. “CPA also quote extensively from “The Institute for Research and Evaluation” a group which is dedicated to removing comprehensive sex-ed programs in favor of abstinence only programs. One of their clients is LifeGuard, an Austin based “sex-education” provider.” Can you provide sources that prove that LifeGuard is abstinence only education?

    2. “Parental input is important, but a vocal minority should not supersede the advice from the subject-matter experts who understand the importance of human sexuality education.” Can you please clarify who these “subject-matter experts’ are, and what credentials qualify them as such?

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • September 11, 2018 at 10:12 pm
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      1. From the Austin Chronicle: “According to a new survey on teens and sex conducted by Austin LifeGuard – the abstinence-only education program provided by Austin LifeCare, a Christian, faith-based crisis pregnancy center – 47% of parents surveyed say they are the primary provider of information regarding sex, and 43% say they have these conversations regularly; meanwhile, however, just 24% of teens say they get most information from their parents, and just 7% say sex is a regular topic of conversation at home.

      Austin LifeGuard has been providing abstinence-based sex ed since 1989 and until this year was on the Austin ISD list of “approved speakers” for district sex education classes – that meant, according to district officials, that while the program was not on the “approved district curriculum,” individual teachers were free to bring LifeGuard in as a guest speaker.”

      2. I’ve personally spoken to several pediatricians as well as counselors and therapists who overwhelmingly support kids knowing the correct terms for their body parts, including genitalia. I’ve also read many articles and studies supporting the same. This article covers many of the basic benefits. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/31/well/family/teaching-children-the-real-names-for-body-parts.html

      Reply
  • September 1, 2018 at 9:56 pm
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    There are several parent groups and individuals opposing what AISD is doing, but MR-T isn’t one of them. MR-T hasn’t spoken at any AISD board meetings.

    Reply
    • September 11, 2018 at 9:31 pm
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      I’m assuming MR-T is referring to Mass Resistance Texas, and not Mr. T, star of the A-Team. 😉 The “Concerned Parents” group is the mouthpiece of the values of Mass Resistance Texas. If they are not directly related, they have not made that clear with the amount over overlapping coverage on their websites, shared resources, etc.

      Reply
  • September 2, 2018 at 5:39 am
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    wondering why you refuse to publish or respond to my questions?

    Reply
    • September 11, 2018 at 9:34 pm
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      No need to wonder any longer – I simply haven’t seen any of the comments until now, including Perry’s heartbreaking concerns about having to serve a group of people who consider him a sinner.

      Heading over to read through your previous questions.

      Reply

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