Fort Worth ISD botched sex education update. Parents and taxpayers deserve better | Opinion

There won’t be any sex education for Fort Worth ISD students this year. And it’s not because a group of parents got it shut down or teachers refused to teach it.

It’s because the district and school board made some major missteps they need to correct — and quickly. The mishandling of taxpayer dollars and ensuing decision to purchase, then cancel, an entire curriculum that the school has taught for decades smacks of entitlement and irresponsibility, a terrible combination for those responsible for the education of nearly 80,000 kids.

Superintendent Angélica Ramsey announced the decision after questions arose about a curriculum update the district purchased last year for nearly $2.6 million. The Fort Worth ISD school board approved the purchase, from the California-based HealthSmart, but news has surfaced that trustees did not discuss the purchase, nor was it part of a consent agenda, as required.

Furthermore, we haven’t been able to review the actual curriculum but longtime State Board of Education member Pat Hardy, R-Fort Worth, contends that the HealthSmart curriculum contradicts Texas law because it does not align with new state standards.

These facts raise several questions: Why did the board push this through quietly? Why did trustees approve a curriculum that does not follow the appropriate protocols? Does the board agree that the best solution now is simply to cancel any sex education teaching for the whole year? Could the district have proceeded one more year with the old curriculum?

Ramsey is still settling in as superintendent, a job she started in September. The district has many problems and priorities, and with doubts about the curriculum and process, her best option was to press pause. But it never should have come to this point.

Parents who attended a board meeting last week came armed with complaints about what little they did know about the curriculum. The lack of transparency was the biggest complaint, followed by the fact that some of the language in the curriculum about body parts adopted language rooted in gender fluidity.

All school curriculum should be posted online for parents to view. That would answer parents’ calls for transparency and could curtail some of the controversy at school board meetings.

Valeria Nevarez, 22, holds a sign to protest the HealthSmart sexual education curriculum during a school board meeting at the Fort Worth ISD Teaching and Learning Center on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. Nevarez helped organize several dozen concerned citizens and parents to protest HealthSmart, which has supplied the district with its curriculum since 2014, saying the content is “inappropriate” for school-aged children.

A lot of the disputes at FWISD board meetings are over the fact that some parents feel like they’re getting snowed. Parents believe that the district is not being forthright about changes. Transparency is vital to the health and reputation of any government. The district should have nothing to hide.

Likewise, once parents have had a chance to review curriculum on a subject such as sex education, they should be able to opt their children out. Some families may prefer to teach their own values and priorities at home.

It goes without saying that sex education curriculum must follow Texas law and standards.

Sex education curriculum should be basic, err on the side of encouraging kids to be cautious when it comes to sex and provide accurate information about sexually transmitted infections. Direct, straightforward language seems like the best practice.

But for all these things to take place, the board must put forth a curriculum for review and discussion. Fort Worth ISD can’t duck parent participation. If that was the goal, it’s been a costly lesson.