After months of heated debate over the content of the health curriculum for the Canyon Independent School District, the board voted unanimously to remove the curriculum as a requirement for graduation.
Following the advice of certain speakers last month, the board meeting opened with public prayer and the pledge of allegiance. The board had not had this as part of the meeting in some time, and after receiving criticism for not including these in meetings, these actions were added to the agenda.
At last month’s meeting, the board approved the current curriculum after multiple meetings of the SHAC (School Health Advisory Council) committee, which favored the publisher chosen for health education. An 88% majority of the committee found the health curriculum to be the best choice and decided that much of the content found objectionable by the loudest segment of the community would be opt-in only.
The objectionable content was related to any level of sex education that even broached the subject of how to prevent pregnancy, safe sex and any content that made any mention of the LGBTQIA+. In last month’s meeting, new board member Paul Blake was the lone dissenting vote against the health curriculum, stating that he felt that schools need to be out of the sex education business. After the meeting, Blake stated that no literature in the schools should normalize any aspect of the LGBTQIA+ or even mention that the segment of society exists.
At the previous meeting, Blake spoke about one of his issues with the curriculum: the term “pregnant person” in the optional literature that requires a parent to consent to those learning objectives. Other audience members had objected to any sex education that did not solely promote abstinence in its curriculum.
Opening the meeting in public comments, Lea Davis from the CISD community thanked the board for instituting its library book policy. She urged them to get rid of the health curriculum requirement for graduation. She stated that there were a lot more important things for children to learn and suggested financial literacy courses from Dave Ramsey, a noted radio show host and author. She also accused the health curriculum provider of scientific inaccuracy and urged the board not to use them as a provider.
When the agenda item came up to recommend that the health curriculum be eliminated as a high school graduation requirement, there was some minor discussion about certain areas that were required that would be covered as standalone classes. Still, there was no discussion from any school board member about keeping the health curriculum as a requirement and the possible negative effects it could have on students. Every board member voted to strip health as a requirement for graduation, with no argument in favor of keeping it in place.
For the coming school year, the health curriculum will be kept as a requirement, with parents having more options to opt-out. In the coming year, the class will no longer be required but will be available as an elective if parents choose to have it taught. If not enough students take the course at some point, it could be removed altogether, the board said.
In public comment following the meeting, Kasey Ketelhut blasted the board’s decision to remove the health curriculum from its requirements and asked that Blake step down over his bigoted comments towards members of the LGBTQIA+ community in which he referred to their behavior as deviant.
“How can a school board member who said before being elected that he wanted to provide a safe environment to our children and teachers alike make a statement that was an outright attack on one of our populations?” Ketelhut said. “Well, Mr. Blake, let me tell you that I am absolutely disgusted by your remarks. … I am asking for your resignation because not only are you discriminatory, but you have let us know that you have bigotry against some of the children in our classrooms.”
Ketelhut also spoke about how the board will go forward in trying to respect people of different cultures and sexual orientations as they accept this level of bigotry from one of its members.
Asked about her thoughts on the repeal of the requirement for health care education for graduation, Ketelhut lamented on the loss of education to students who need it most.
“We have a lot of students that do not learn about health curriculum at home, so now we are taking (it) out of the hands of the schools,” Ketelhut said. “Now, there will be no requirement to educate our students. “
She said that the removal of sex education would only be a negative for students who are many times not educated at home because parents are afraid to broach the subject. Ketelhut also said she was surprised and disappointed in the board’s decision to abandon health education.
Rachel Huddleston also said that she was disappointed with the decision the board made and felt it could negatively affect students and teachers alike who teach these classes. She also felt the idea of using Dave Ramsey for schools was a bad idea since she doubted it aligned with Texas standards.
“This is information that our students benefit from, and many are not getting any education at home,” Huddleston said.
Speaking in favor of the repeal of the health curriculum requirement, local resident Rick Lopez said he also appreciated that the board brought the pledge and prayer back to meetings. He thought the board’s decision was great for the community as he felt that the requirement of health education in high school was unnecessary.
“It was a good move; we got along just fine without these programs in the past. These kids will do just fine,” Lopez said.
Following the meeting, board member Jennifer Winegarner spoke about her reasoning for recommending removing the health curriculum requirement for graduation.
Winegarner said the board was all about giving students every chance to succeed and giving them as many options as they could. She said that once the legislature decided that it would no longer be a statewide requirement, any board could decide not to require it. She said this decision was about giving students and parents flexibility in education.
When asked if she felt that students would suffer from not having health education, Winegarner said she felt confident that students would get the education that they needed.
“I fully support the value of health education for our students, but I support the right of parents and students to make the choices best suited for them,” Winegarner said. “We will still make that offering available to students, and now they have that decision to make on what is best for them.”