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Texas GOP to schools: Use live ultrasounds to show a ‘preborn child’

A cutout of former president Donald Trump stands at a display at the Republican Party of Texas convention June 16 in Houston. (Elizabeth Conley/Houston Chronicle/AP)
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The Texas Republican Party has long been pushing for conservative views to be taught in public school classrooms, but it went further than ever at its just-concluded 2022 convention in Houston. Its members advanced a platform that says:

  • Schools should be required to teach about the “humanity of the pre-born child” by, among other things, using “fetal baby models” and having students witness “a live ultrasound.”
  • The legislature should pass legislation “more comprehensive than the Florida law that prohibits instruction in sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools.” This would allow for any educator who violates it to lose certification and “be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Until such a law is signed, sex education “shall only utilize sexual risk avoidance programs and promote abstinence outside of marriage.”
  • Schools should strengthen lessons on “our common American identity, which includes the contribution and assimilation of diverse racial and ethnic groups.” But critical race theory should not be allowed in any publicly funded program because it is a “post-Marxist ideology that seeks to undermine the system of law and order itself and to reduce individuals to their group identity alone.” It also says students “shall pledge allegiance to the United States and Texas flags daily to instill patriotism.”
  • The study of American history before 1877 should be done in high school and “heavily weighted toward the study of original founding documents, including the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, the Constitutional Convention, the Federalist Papers, and Founders’ writings.” That could be seen as given short shrift to slavery and the Civil War — which Texas teaches students was caused mostly by sectarianism and states’ rights — and the Reconstruction Era, which ended in 1877.

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  • Public universities “should be required to create a comprehensive program of instruction in Western Civilization, American Institutions, and free-market liberty principles, with centers and funding dedicated to that task.” And these schools “should be required to comply … before tuition or state appropriations are increased.”

The Texas Republican Party held its convention at a time when cultural wars are being waged across the country, with some of the battles aimed at what teachers can and can’t say about topics such as gender and racism. Republican-led Texas has been at the center of that. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed into law late last year a bill that restricts what teachers can say about race and gender, and requires teachers to discuss “both sides” of every issue — leading one Texas school district administrator to tell teachers to discuss both sides of the Holocaust last year. Texas school districts have removed from library shelves numerous books with LGBTQ and other themes.

Texas has also been influential in education reform beyond its own borders. President George W. Bush pioneered the 2002 No Child Left Behind federal law when he was governor of Texas, and Texas plays a big role in the content of textbooks that other states use because of its size and influence with publishers.

At Texas GOP convention, loyalists embrace far right, anti-gay rhetoric

The GOP convention got headlines for some non-education issues: Members advanced the idea that President Biden was not legitimately elected, even though he was; that the 1965 Voting Rights Act — passed to stop discrimination against Black Americans at the polls — should be repealed; and that Texans should vote on whether to secede from the United States. Vote counts haven’t been announced for the platform, but it would be unusual if most if not all of the measures do not pass. (You can see a draft of the final platform advanced at the convention below.)

It’s education planks, though not surprising for the Texas GOP, take things to further extremes than before, and at one point, the party members even made clear that they are intent on outdoing Florida in restricting what teachers can say about sexual orientation and gender identity. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) was the first governor to sign legislation, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law, that bars K-3 teachers from discussing the subjects and limits what teachers in upper grades can say, as well. He also signed another law that restricts how teachers can address racism and gives parents the right to sue teachers if they think critical race theory is being taught to their children. The Texas GOP was clear on its desire for teachers to be prosecuted.

A draft final version of the platform report to the convention calls for bans on sex and sexuality education. But it does, after all, want students to learn something about human reproduction, with the use of a live ultrasound and models of fetuses. It says:

Education on Humanity of the Preborn Child: Texas students should learn about the Humanity of the Preborn Child, including life-affirming definitions of life and the study of life, life begins at fertilization, milestones of fetal development at two-week gestational intervals, use of fetal baby models, witnessing of a live ultrasound, viewing the Miracle of Life type video, and (for high school students) the contents of the Woman’s Right to Know booklet.

High school students should also read the “A Woman’s Right to Know” booklet, which doctors are required to give to women seeking abortions — which have been seriously restricted in Texas by the state legislature. The booklet has been criticized for making claims not supported by science — such as that abortions can make cancer and infertility more likely — and shaming women who seek abortions.

The party also wants students to learn that life begins at fertilization, which, Kristen Ylana, executive director of the Texas Women’s Health Caucus, told the Tribune is part of an effort to establish a legal foundation for the claim that a fetus has constitutional rights.

Other parts of the education section of the platform include:

  • The state should never regulate home schooling or private school curriculums, but it should allow public funding to be used for private, charter and home-school options — meaning that taxpayers could pay for religious education but have no say in what is taught. Currently, Texas does not have any programs that use public money for school vouchers, but Abbot says he wants one.
  • The legislature should “end censorship of discussion of religion in our founding documents and encourage discussing those documents, including the Bible as their basis.”
  • The U.S. Education Department should be abolished — a call that has been made by people including former education secretary Betsy DeVos, who served in the Trump administration.
  • Locally elected school boards “have a duty to ensure that the education provided reflects traditional Texas values and have purview over policy, curriculum, and budget.” The platform says that “We oppose micromanagement guidelines, trainings, and governance policies that empower appointed superintendents at the expense of elected school boards.” Yet it also says that local school districts “should sever all ties with taxpayer funded lobby groups including the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB), the Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA), and the Texas Association of Community Schools (TACS).” The state would instead provide required training now given by those groups. The TASB, for example, provides training to school board members to help them work effectively.

Why would the Republicans want districts to leave those organizations? The move would place more power over school districts with the Republican leaders of the state, including over how local school boards operate.

In May, the TASB announced its intent to leave the National School Boards Association — under pressure from Republican lawmakers in the state — because the national group asked the Biden administration to use federal agencies to handle “threats of violence and acts of intimidation at school board meetings.” Hundreds of such incidents have been reported amid new debates about coronavirus masking mandates, how race and racism is taught and school supports for transgender students, and Attorney General Merrick Garland asked the FBI to get involved. The national association later apologized for the tone of the letter. Meanwhile, the Texas Association of Community Schools, which represents school districts with no more than 12,000 students, provides professional development to teachers; and the Texas Association of School Administrators provides learning opportunities and mentoring to superintendents and other administrators.

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The Texas GOP convention was held just as the state is about to enter into what is likely to be a contentious battle about the social studies curriculum.

The Texas State Board of Education rewrites social studies standards every decade and was expected to release its draft revisions — after a year-long process — at this month’s meeting. That has now been put off until July, though there has already been controversy: Several board members hired academic Stephen Balch — who has called the 2020 election of Joe Biden a “literal coup” — as a content adviser.

Headlines were made the last time the curriculum was rewritten a decade ago due to standards such as one that lists the first two causes of the civil war as “sectionalism” and “states’ rights,” with slavery as third. Civil War historians are clear about slavery being the chief cause of the war.

Texas officials: Schools should teach that slavery was ‘side issue’ to Civil War

In 2012, the party’s platform included opposition to teaching critical thinking. It said then:

Knowledge-Based Education — We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.

Such a notion negates the general view that education is meant to expand the minds of young people and, yes, help them learn to think for themselves. After the plank in the platform was ridiculed — including by Stephen Colbert — the communications director of the party said opposition to “critical thinking” wasn’t supposed to be included but would be hard to remove.

The new platform that was voted on at the weekend convention says, “We encourage teaching critical thinking skills.”

Here is the education section from a draft final version of the platform taken from the party’s website:

Education
(Parents’ Rights)
School Choice: Texas families should be empowered to choose from public, private, charter, or homeschool options for their children’s education, and the funding should follow the student. We also support tax credits and exemptions for education and choice within the public school system.
No Regulation of Homeschooling or Private School Curriculum: We oppose any attempt to regulate homeschooling or the curriculum of private or religious schools.
Parents Rights in Education: Parents are the primary educators and disciplinarians of their children, to which all other entities are inferior. The fundamental rights of parents to make decisions regarding the upbringing and control of their children in all aspects, but especially in all aspects of the Texas education system shall be recognized, affirmed, and protected by changes to the Texas Constitution, and Texas Law including codifying the protections currently existing in the Texas Family and Education Codes. No public service entity nor its agents, district personnel, community partners, or District Board of Trustees shall infringe upon these rights.
Enforcement of Parental Rights: Parents need more effective mechanisms to enforce their rights in education. We support creation of impartial ombudsmen in both general education and special education. We call on the legislature to establish to allow for appeals beyond the school district when parents file grievances to protect their rights as well as a process to administer penalties to districts and their personnel who violate those rights. Enforcements must include criminal, civil, and other enforcement measures while giving the state and private citizens a right to sue outside of the local grievance process with expedited enforcement. We call for development of a Parent’s Right to Know and Consent booklet that contains pertinent state and federal law. The federal Pupil Protection Rights Amendment and the Children’s Internet Protection Act should be codified in Texas law and additional state protections for students with disabilities. We call for reforms to the Disciplinary Alternative Education Program (DAEP) placement to protect parents’ rights and ensure that placement is reserved only for serious offenses.
Sexual Education: We demand the State Legislature pass a law prohibiting the teaching of sex education, sexual health, or sexual choice or identity in any public school in any grade whatsoever, or disseminating or permitting the dissemination by any party of any material regarding the same. All school districts, individual schools, or charter schools are prohibited from contracting with or making any payment to any third party for material concerning any of the above topics. Until this prohibition goes into effect, sexual education shall only utilize sexual risk avoidance programs and promote abstinence outside of marriage. Before a student may be provided with human sexuality or family planning instruction, the district must obtain the written consent of the student’s parent or guardian [Opt-In status].
Inappropriate and/or Harmful Content: We request that the Texas Legislature pass legislation that requires Texas schools and libraries to filter inappropriate and/or harmful content, such as pornography, for minors. Operators of adult sex entertainment businesses and venues, adult entertainment of any kind, including Drag Queen Story Hour, shall not be part of educational programming in public schools, libraries, or any other taxpayer-funded program for children. We support passage of a law more comprehensive than the Florida law that prohibits instruction in sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools. We advocate for those who violate any of the above to have their educator’s certification revoked and beprosecuted to the fullest extent of the law where appropriate.
Healthcare in Public Schools: Legislators shall prohibit reproductive healthcare services, including counseling, referrals, and distribution of condoms and contraception through public schools. We support parents’ right to choose, without penalty, which medications are administered to their minor children. We support informed consent of parents before any school-based mental health assessments or interventions are performed.
Religious Freedom and Public Schools: We urge school administrators and officials not to infringe on Texas school students’ and staffs’ rights to pray and engage in religious speech, individually or in groups, on school property without government interference. We urge the Legislature to end censorship of discussion of religion in our founding documents and encourage discussing those documents, including the Bible as their basis. Students have the right to exhibit religious items on school property.
(Curriculum)
Foundational Standards: The educational system should focus on foundational standards, which include, but are not limited to, a curriculum of reading (with an emphasis on phonics), spelling, writing, civics (must pass the US Citizenship and Immigration Services test), the arts, music, literature, mathematics (including personal finance), science, geography, economics, and United States and world history including the failures of communism and socialism. We encourage teaching critical thinking skills, including logic, rhetoric, and analytical sciences within these subjects. We advocate the value of vocational training programs.
Founding Documents in High School: We support a high school level curriculum (rather than 8th grade level) for the study of American history (pre-1877) that is heavily weighted toward the study of original founding documents, including the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, the Constitutional Convention, the Federalist Papers, and Founders’ writings.
American Identity: We favor strengthening our common American identity, which includes the contribution and assimilation of diverse racial and ethnic groups. We reject Critical Race Theory as a post-Marxist ideology that seeks to undermine the system of law and order itself and to reduce individuals to their group identity alone. We support legislation to remove this ideology from government programs, including education involving race, discrimination, and racial awareness. To facilitate the appreciation of our American identity, the contrast between freedom and the tyrannical history of socialism/communism throughout history must be taught. Students shall pledge allegiance to the United States and Texas flags daily to instill patriotism. Students have the right to display patriotic items on school property. Schools should have the options to display the National Motto “In God We Trust.”
Scientific Theories: We support objective teaching of scientific theories, such as life origins and climate change. These shall be taught as challengeable scientific theories subject to change as new data is produced. Teachers and students shall discuss the strengths and weaknesses of these theories openly, without fear of retribution or discrimination of any kind.
National Core Curriculum: We oppose the use of national or international standards in the State of Texas (i.e., International Baccalaureate, Common Core, TEKS Resource System (formerly CSCOPE), United Nations Inclusion, National Sexuality Education Standards, and SIECUS, etc.) We also oppose the modification of college entrance exams to reflect any national core philosophies. Any school district that violates state law banning the use of a national core curriculum or standards shall lose all state funding until said curricula or standards are removed and no longer utilized in classrooms.
Bilingual Education: We encourage non-English-speaking students to transition, via best practices, to English within two years, allowing them to quickly assimilate and succeed in American society.
Oversight of Instructional Materials: All instructional materials paid for with state funds should be vetted by the elected State Board of Education, and we oppose appropriation of state funds for instructional content that has not been approved by the SBOE. This approval process must continue to include public review, hearings, and the right to have factual errors corrected. We call on local districts to hold public hearings before deciding which instructional materials they will use including supplemental materials and programs. We call for the repeal of the big tech corporate welfare bill (Senate Bill 6, 82nd Legislature, 1st Called Session), which created a loophole around SBOE approval allowing progressive propaganda and Common Core-based materials into the classroom.
Education on Humanity of the Preborn Child: Texas students should learn about the Humanity of the Preborn Child, including life-affirming definitions of life and the study of life, life begins at fertilization, milestones of fetal development at two-week gestational intervals, use of fetal baby models, witnessing of a live ultrasound, viewing the Miracle of Life type video, and (for high school students) the contents of the Woman’s Right to Know booklet.
(Governance)
Abolish Department of Education: Since education is not an enumerated power of the federal government,775we believe the Department of Education should be abolished, and the transfer of any of its functions to any other federal agency should be prohibited.
Elected SBOE: We believe that the SBOE should continue to be an elected body consisting of fifteen members. Their responsibilities must include:
a. Appointing the Commissioner of Education.
b. Maintaining constitutional authority over the Permanent School Fund.
c. Maintaining sole authority over all curricula content.
d. The state adoption of all educational materials. This process must include public hearings.
e. Granting, revoking, or amending open enrollment school charters.
f. Teacher and administrator certification. We call for the abolition of the State Board for Educator Certification.
The SBOE should be staffed out of general revenue.
School Security: We support passage of a statute, which permits local law enforcement to provide handgun safety and proficiency training for all educators, and allows LTC (License to Carry) holders to carry a concealed firearm on the premises of Pre-K-12 schools for security and protection purposes.
School Safety: We call for the repeal or revision of Senate Bill 393 (2013). We call for mandatory reporting to law enforcement of school children who have committed violent acts on school property.
School Boards: We believe locally-elected school boards have a duty to ensure that the education provided reflects traditional Texas values and have purview over policy, curriculum, and budget. We oppose micromanagement guidelines, trainings, and governance policies that empower appointed superintendents at the expense of elected school boards. We believe university regents should also play an active role in the governance of their institutions and should not rubberstamp what university chancellors and presidents propose.
Withdraw from Taxpayer-Funded Lobby Groups Like TASB: Local independent school districts should sever all ties with taxpayer funded lobby groups including the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB), the Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA), and the Texas Association of Community Schools (TACS). Required training now provided by groups like the above-named organizations would instead be under the auspices of the State Board of Education, with funds appropriated for that purpose. (Refer to Gov. & Election Integrity)
Enforcement of Open Meetings: We support allowing taxpayers to seek limited civil penalties for school trustees who violate the Texas Open Meetings Act. We believe an open meetings violation should be an affirmative defense to a charge of disrupting a public meeting.
Gender Identity: The official position of the Texas schools shall be that there are only two genders: biological male and biological female. We oppose transgender normalizing curriculum and pronoun use. We hold that biological men shall compete against other biological men and biological women shall compete against other biological women in athletics in the public school system of Texas and at the collegiate level.
School Health Advisory Councils: Until the legislature removes sex education from the curriculum of public schools, the State of Texas should adopt changes to Texas Education Code 28.004 to:
a. Require every member of the School Health Advisory Council (SHAC) to be appointed by the Board of Trustees
b. Require at least 50% of the SHAC to be parents of students within the district, who are not related to district employees.
c. Require at least 50% of the parent attendees to be present for business to be conducted and be open to the public.
d. Require every school district to post:
i. SHAC meeting minutes.
ii. Full and fair disclosure of the contents of the human sexuality instruction.
iii. Proposed changes to health education.
e. Close loopholes in order to prohibit contraception distribution and demonstration.
f. Expand the grievance process to cover the entire section of Texas Education Code
Foreign Charter Schools: Charter schools should have accountability and transparency to local parents, taxpayers, and the State of Texas, as do current public schools. We oppose public funding of charter schools that receive money from foreign entities. We urge the Texas Legislature to enact legislation that requires charter school operators and board members to be eligible Texas voters.
(Higher Education)
College Tuition and Student Loan Reform: College costs are out-of-control, and reform is urgently required, including the following:
a. We call for reasonable limits on public university tuition and student loan borrowing commensurate with fiscal responsibility and current earnings in the student’s field of education
b. We oppose mass cancellation of student loan obligations but support tax credits and interest rate reductions to ease the burden on students deeply in debt.
c. We support requiring universities to share the risk of guaranteeing student loans, and universities with multi-billion dollar endowments should guarantee their own student loans.
d. We oppose in-state tuition and financial aid for illegal aliens.
e. We oppose Robin Hood schemes that raise tuition for some students to give to others.
Fund and Support Western Civilization Instruction, Defund Political Correctness:
a. Like Hillsdale College, we agree that state universities “should value the merit of each unique individual, rather than succumbing to the discriminatory trend of so-called social justice and multicultural diversity, which judges individuals not as individuals, but as members of a group which pits one group against other competing groups in divisive power struggles.”
b. We oppose any state formula funding or graduation requirements for divisive curricula inconsistent with the above, including Marxist, anti-American, Critical Race Theory, multiculturalism, or diversity-equity-inclusion courses.
c. We oppose using public funds for homosexuality, transgender, or diversity-equity-inclusion centers.
d. Public universities should be required to create a comprehensive program of instruction in Western Civilization, American Institutions, and free-market liberty principles, with centers and funding dedicated to that task.
e. Public universities should be required to comply with the above before tuition or state appropriations are increased.
Campus Speech: We urge the Texas Legislature to recognize the rights of those on college campuses to practice their faith and their right to free speech. We support withdrawal of public funding from any college or university within this state that actively or passively discriminates or permits discrimination against the free speech of either students or guest speakers. Student groups shall have the unfettered right to elect their leaders, choose their members, and set their organization’s mission, purpose, and standard of conduct.
Tenure: We support abolishing the system of tenure in academia and advocate replacing it with a merit-based system for teacher retention.
Equal Access: All Texas students shall have equal access to all state-supported university admissions, grants, scholarships, and loans, based upon measurable academic criteria. We support the suspension of federal funding from universities that prohibit military recruitment on campus. We support allowing homeschool and private school students to compete as individuals in UIL academic competitions and be eligible for associated scholarships.

Here’s the full draft final report from the party on its 2022 platform found on its website:

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