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TEA News Releases Online Dec. 2, 2016
Starting the Conversation Project launches

AUSTIN – The Texas High School Coaches Association and Texas Education Agency today announced the statewide launch of the program, Starting the Conversation. The teaching tool is designed to raise awareness about the issue of dating violence and equip educators with the tools needed to “start the conversation” with athletes and students about sexual assault and consent.

Starting the Conversation will be the first program of its kind in the nation aimed at increasing young people’s awareness about this important social and gender issue. The 26,000-member Texas High School Coaches Association has endorsed the program and will take the lead in implementing it statewide.   

“With an uptick of high-profile sexual assault cases across the country, the Texas High School Coaches Association knew we had to reach students at the high school level to try to change attitudes about dating violence,” said D.W. Rutledge, the executive director of the Texas High School Coaches Association. “We know this can be a sensitive and difficult topic, so we’re equipping educators with the tools they need to start the conversation.”

Lessons and materials will be available beginning in January to coaches across the state, and will provide an in-depth curriculum for teaching student-athletes about how to prevent sexual violence and harassment.

“Education remains our best weapon in combating sexual assault, but the message must come from those in our schools who hold positions of authority and respect,” said former Commissioner of Education Michael Williams. “As the son of a former high school football coach, I know all too well that coaches are in position to effectively ‘start the conversation’ and reach male and female athletes with critical lessons on respect and personal accountability that transcend beyond the stadium or arena.”

“This initiative introduces and addresses an important topic at an appropriate age,” said Commissioner of Education Mike Morath. “Creating a culture of accountability for personal behavior allows all students the benefit of a safe and nurturing learning environment in our schools.”

Some of the issues addressed include defining the term sexual assault; addressing the central legal concept of consent, which is vastly misunderstood; and exploring the larger issues that sexual assault raises, such as justice, accountability for one’s behavior and power within a school.

The training was developed and packaged in a manner to reach the largest number of students possible. The program includes a starter kit that introduces the initiative, three lessons covering different stages of the issue, short videos to guide a conversation and a resource list for students who have more questions.

Funding for all materials related to the Starting the Conversation project, including production of the instructional video, were raised privately by the Texas High School Coaches Association via its non-profit organization, the Texas High School Coaches Education Foundation. Professional teams, including the Houston Rockets, the Dallas Cowboys and the Houston Texans, participated by donating funds to the initiative. All funds raised were used solely for instructional materials and no other purpose.

Teachers and coaches can share the program with students and encourage them to recognize inappropriate behavior, report the behavior to the authorities and prevent unwanted behavior going forward.

All Texas coaches and teachers will be able to access the materials for free online via the Texas High School Coaches Association website, the Texas School Safety Center and Texas Gateway (https://www.texasgateway.org/resource/starting-conversation), a free online resource library for educators and parents provided by the Texas Education Agency (TEA), starting in early January. 

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