Austin LifeGuard (ALG) provides the sex education curriculum for Leander ISD. ALG is an arm of Austin LifeCare, a self-described anti-abortion crisis pregnancy center, and sometimes offers incomplete information to scare students about sex.
LISD has been teaching the same basic ALG program — an abstinence-plus curriculum that often promotes the dangers of pre-marital sex rather than a science-based human sexuality course — for 13 years.
“The [School Health Advisory Council] SHAC looks at several different curriculums noting the requirements from the state and determines which curriculum to recommend for use in LISD,” Matt Mitchell, LISD communications coordinator, said.
He said the SHAC reviews the human sexuality curriculum every three years for grades 7, 8 and 9.
In 2018, the LISD SHAC reviewed the ALG, Big Decisions and Scott and White curriculums. Ultimately, the subcommittee recommended that LISD continue their partnership with ALG, at a cost of $35,000. The LISD School Board at the time, approved the recommendation.
ALG is taught in eight school districts in Texas, including LISD. The Scott and White curriculum is taught in Georgetown ISD and Round Rock ISD. Big Decisions is taught in over 15 school districts, including Hutto, San Antonio and Waco.
In the ALG curriculum, a few questionable tactics are used to demonstrate ideas that could potentially cause a student to have unhealthy feelings surrounding human sexuality.
In the 7th grade curriculum, an activity involving Skittles is used to demonstrate how easily sexually transmitted infections are spread from person to person.
The Houston Chronicle published an article in September, and quoted a former LISD student. She shared how the Skittles activity gave her “the insinuation of the more people you have sex with, the dirtier you are.”
The course packet said each student would be given one Skittle. Students with yellow Skittles would be told to keep their Skittles, while anyone with any other color would trade with as many classmates as possible. After doing so, the students would be asked if they would eat those Skittles. The yellow Skittles represent abstinence.
ALG Executive Director Corey Tabor said that the way the Skittles activity was portrayed in the Houston Chronicle article is not the way it is taught in the classroom.
“The activity simply speaks to the fact that when the Skittles are exchanged between individuals, they are exposed to whatever the person’s hands have been exposed to,” Tabor said. “The same is true when discussing sexual activity. When having sex, a person is exposed to whatever may be a part of their person’s sexual health, including STIs."
Tabor explained that exposure is the number one risk factor for STIs.
"It is not saying that people who have had sex are dirty, it’s simply saying that they are exposed to whatever their partner has been exposed to.”
The 7th grade curriculum also shows a lack of balance between male and female sexuality. The curriculum, which is taught co-ed, shows a diagram of both male and female anatomy to explain human reproduction. In the female anatomy, however, there was one part missing — the clitoris.
In the same regard, the 7th grade curriculum mentions arousal for males, when explaining erections, though it also explains that erections are not always due to arousal. It also talks about nocturnal emissions or “wet dreams.” The text makes sure to reinforce to males how normal it is for these things to occur.
However, in the female curriculum, there is no mention of arousal, sexual feelings or of those things being a normal part of female puberty.
Tabor said arousal is discussed for both sexes, though it was not mentioned explicitly for females in any of the course materials.
“We do discuss arousal as one of the causes for erections in males as we discuss the male reproductive anatomy, but we also discuss the rise in sex hormones, i.e. estrogen, progesterone and testosterone, that lead to greater levels of attraction during puberty,” Tabor said.
Though the course materials do mention those sex hormones, they do not explicitly correlate arousal with estrogen like they do with testosterone.
The ALG program also uses a fear-based tactic. It exaggerates the consequences of sexual activity by using pictures of diseased body parts.
The Texas Freedom Network examined sex education in the state in a report, “Conspiracy of Silence: Sexuality Education in Texas Public Schools in 2015-2016.” According to the report, the ALG curriculum exaggerates the consequences of sexual activity by using pictures of diseased body parts.
“The lesson transmits a message to students that the diseased body parts depicted in the pictures are what common STIs look like and anything less than that is not something to worry about,” the TFN report said. “In the 21st century, almost all STIs have some treatment that can help them from becoming the worse-case scenarios often depicted in these photos.”
ALG’s “I Heart Pants” campaign video is also shared with students. The narrator in the video said that when worn properly pants can protect against the “unwanted and unpleasant side effects of sex.”
Wearing pants prevents unwanted pregnancy and several STIs as well as “regret … jealousy … heartache … ended friendships … ruining your reputation and more,” the campaign video said. Students are also encouraged to go to iheartpants.org and buy a “I Heart Pants” t-shirt for $10.
The ALG curriculum also has numerous accurate statistics, especially regarding STIs, as provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The program also includes inaccurate statistics regarding contraception.
According to the course materials, condoms are 87 percent effective. During a parent workshop on Nov. 14, Tabor said this percentage was configured by the effectiveness of condoms and the percentage of ineffective condom usage. ALG calls this the “Human Reality Rate.”
Though Tabor mentioned the ineffective or incorrect usage of condoms, the course packet does not include any information about how to use a condom correctly. When used correctly, condoms are 98 percent effective, according to the CDC.
Likewise, the program said birth control pills are only 94 percent effective. When used as prescribed, birth control pills are 98 percent effective.
When discussing pregnancy and fetal development, ALG uses the state’s “A Woman’s Right to Know” pamphlet — the same pamphlet legally-required to be given to individuals considering abortion services.
While not inaccurate, the fetal development information presented in some of the slides is taken from a source that has many proven medically and scientifically inaccurate facts throughout.
The state doesn't require districts to use information from "A Woman's Right to Know" in sexual education but, Tabor said, the pamphlet provides an example to students.
“We provide an example so students can be aware of what it looks like in case they or their families need access to the information in the future,” Tabor said.
Lack of Real Resources
Tabor said students receive a card for The Source, of which ALC is a part, so they have the information in the event that they need STI testing, contraception or pregnancy resources.
The Source is a chain of eight independent CPCs in Texas. The merger is an effort to earn Title X funds relinquished by Planned Parenthood after the Trump administration implemented new rules regarding abortion counseling. The new rules forbid Title X fund recipients from providing or referring patients for abortion services, except in cases of rape, incest or medical emergency.
The Source is still in the process of covering all requirements to be eligible for Title X funds, so they do not yet offer STI testing or contraception.
The Source is projected to begin offering those services in March 2020.
Tabor said The Source will then offer “some birth control options for some clients,” explaining that minors will need parental permission to receive any contraception. Texas law does not require parental permission to prescribe birth control to minors.
What is Austin LifeGuard?
The Austin LifeGuard (ALG) Character and Sexuality Education teaches an abstinence-plus curriculum, as a program of Austin LifeCare (ALC), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
Funding for the ALG program comes from donations by individuals, businesses, churches and community organizations. The donations are awarded to ALC, which are then dispersed to ALG and other programs, such as the Austin LifeChange program — a program providing “support for the spiritual, emotional and psychological effects that can occur after an abortion, sexual abuse or miscarriage experience.”
ALC offers separate Bible studies for each situation.
Austin LifeCare (ALC) is characterized as an anti-abortion crisis pregnancy center. They are “a Christian faith-based nonprofit organization dedicated to providing compassionate and trustworthy service to the Austin community.” They seek to “promote positive solutions to the challenges surrounding unplanned pregnancies through prevention, intervention and restoration.”
Like many other crisis pregnancy centers in Texas, ALC received tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars through the state’s Alternatives to Abortion program — a program promoting childbirth and providing support services to pregnant women and adoptive parents. Alternatives to Abortion works with the Texas Pregnancy Care Network, a large umbrella of CPCs, adoption agencies and social service agencies.
Texas state law does not require any sex or HIV education to be taught in public school; however, if a school chooses to teach sex education, it is required that the program emphasizes abstinence until marriage.
There are no legal requirements about specific content, including contraception or medically accurate information. LISD participates in teaching an abstinence-plus program that emphasizes abstinence but also includes information about contraception.