Fort Worth ISD students will not take sex education this school year after the superintendent told parents she is scrapping plans to adopt a controversial curriculum that the district appears to have purchased last year for nearly $2.6 million.
Superintendent Angélica Ramsey made the announcement at the end of her weekly newsletter sent Jan. 27. She told parents the district is restarting its curriculum adoption process. For nearly a year, administrators planned to re-adopt instructional materials from California-based HealthSmart.
In April, the Fort Worth ISD school board approved a nearly $2.6 million purchase of new digital-only instructional health materials from HealthSmart that included sex education. Trustees did not discuss the purchase. The purchase was part of the consent agenda, a list of items considered routine that can be approved in one motion.
District spokesperson Claudia Garibay did not respond to a dozen questions from the Fort Worth Report by publication time.
“There is not an approved, adopted or recommended Human Sexuality Curriculum for the 2022-23 school year. The delay will suspend the instructional delivery of the sexual education unit for the 2022-23 school year,” Ramsey wrote to parents.
Students whose parents opt them into sex education were expected to take the course later in spring semester, according to the district. Consent forms had a due date of Feb. 28.
The School Health Advisory Council — the school board-appointed, 26-member committee reviewing sex education — is expected to examine different options for Fort Worth ISD’s next curriculum, Ramsey said.
Ramsey’s announcement comes after a Jan. 24 school board meeting that saw dozens of residents and parents speak out against the HealthSmart curriculum, which the district has used since 2014. The Report filed an open records request for the proposed curriculum.
Fort Worth ISD bought HealthSmart’s instructional materials for all grade levels. Sex education is included in lessons for middle school and high school, according to HealthSmart.
State law requires school board members to make decisions on sex education curriculum, the Texas Education Agency told the Report.
‘Superintendent inherited a situation’
State Board of Education member Pat Hardy wants to see Fort Worth ISD succeed. However, as she watched the district attempt to adopt HealthSmart, she did not see administrators being transparent nor working with parents enough to make an informed decision, she told the Report.
Hardy, a Republican who represents west Tarrant County, criticized Fort Worth ISD’s sex education curriculum adoption in a recent opinion article. All Fort Worth ISD needed to do was follow the process outlined in state law, Hardy said.
Hardy blamed Fort Worth ISD’s previous leadership for its sex education issues. Ramsey has been superintendent since late September; she replaced Kent Scribner.
“The superintendent inherited a situation that was going on before she got here,” Hardy said.
Hardy praised Ramsey for telling parents her plans to get Fort Worth ISD’s next sex education curriculum right and to follow state law.
“My hat’s off to her,” Hardy said.
What has happened, so far
New sex education curriculum standards were introduced in 2020. Without state-aligned materials, Fort Worth ISD cannot teach sex education.
What is the process for adopting a sex education curriculum?
Texas law and Fort Worth ISD school board policy detail the process for adopting new instructional materials for sex education. Here’s what the district’s policy, which aligns with state law, says:
The following process shall apply regarding the adoption of curriculum materials for the district’s human sexuality instruction:
- The school board shall adopt a resolution convening the district’s school health advisory council to recommend curriculum materials for the instruction.
- The advisory council shall hold at least two public meetings on the curriculum materials before adopting recommendations to present to the board.
- The advisory council recommendations must comply with the instructional content requirements in law, be suitable for the subject and grade level for which the materials are intended, and be reviewed by academic experts in the subject and grade level for which the materials are intended.
- The advisory council shall present its recommendations to the Board at a public meeting.
- After the school board ensures the recommendations from the advisory council meet the standards in law, the board shall take action on the recommendations by a record vote at a public meeting.
Texas school districts are not required to teach sex education. Districts that choose to do so are required to have parents opt their students into the course.
The State Board of Education recommended school districts use sex education curriculum for middle school students from publisher Goodheart-Wilcox. However, the state board did not make it mandatory.
In early January, the school board stopped the School Health Advisory Council’s review of sex education curriculum.
At that same meeting, trustees also rescinded a December resolution directing the council to officially convene and hold two public meetings before offering a curriculum recommendation. When trustees OK’d the resolution in December, its agenda item had the wrong title. It was “approve resolution concerning implementation and enforcement of school safety measures.” District officials blamed the mistake on a clerical error.
The School Health Advisory Council worked on recommending HealthSmart to the school board since September. Garibay described that work as “informational,” according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Two public meetings were held Sept. 6 and 7. Agendas for those meetings were not publicly available Jan. 26, and no minutes were posted. On Oct. 12, the School Health Advisory Council voted to recommend the proposed sex education curriculum to the school board, according to minutes of the meeting.
However, school board records show trustees did not consider a resolution convening the School Health Advisory Council to begin the sex education review process. The resolution is the first step toward adopting a new curriculum, according to board policy.
Another meeting was held Nov. 5 when 15 new council members, who were appointed in October, participated for the first time. The council again voted to recommend the curriculum; minutes of the meeting were not available on the district’s site.
No complaints about Fort Worth ISD’s sex education curriculum have been filed with TEA, according to agency officials.
For the past few months, Hardy has heard from her constituents about Fort Worth ISD. Most of the comments, she said, focus on one thing the district should be doing: Be transparent.
“They’re tired of things not coming to the forefront,” Hardy said. “They just want Fort Worth ISD to be honest.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated March 20, 2023, to clarify the health curriculum purchase. The $2.6 million purchase of materials from HealthSmart covered all health education. Sex education was part of the materials, but those lessons are not in use.
Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.