The State Senate Education Committee passed a bill that requires Garden State local school boards to post online their health and sexual education curriculum this Summer before any classroom discussion this Fall.
But time and time again those who trekked to Trenton seemed more concerned about expressing what would be taught than the actual bill that would allow them to review the material that will make its way to the classroom this upcoming school year.
“If this becomes law, we will know what’s going on in our curricula in all of our school districts,” said State Sen. Vin Gopal (D-13) the committee’s chairman and bill’s main sponsor, said during the hearing May 9. “And if we see bad actors out there, this will be how we can try to correct that—if we do see things being taught that shouldn’t be taught.”
Staying on Bill
Gopal throughout the hearing tried to keep those offering testimony and GOP lawmakers on topic, at times patiently and other times expasterted by critics who claimed to want a clear picture of what will be taught to students.
“This bill has to do with transparency in curriculums,” Gopal said. “Something you should all want, but for whatever reason are opposed to this bill today.”
The Monmouth County lawmaker noted critics were unable to single out one school district in New Jersey where they believe the curriculum they are objecting to has been adopted.
“Unfortunately, I think this has been used as a political football for folks for trying to get voters in November,” he said after the meeting. “But transparency will only stop all that.”
Sex Ed Standards
New Jersey’s updated standards were adopted by the state Board of Education in June 2020 that outline when students should learn about topics such as sexual orientation, gender identity, and anatomy. But since the beginning of April, GOP lawmakers, conservative advocacy groups and some parents have claimed the standards go too far with topics that should be up to families to discuss.
Warren County parent Eveleth Roderer said while she was all for transparency, that was not good enough “after the horse has been let out of the barn.”
Roderer was one of the few critics who would offer comments on the actual bill. Instead, many over the course of two hours campaigned for the rolling back of the new standards, including those advocates from the Center for Garden State Families and Team PYC-Protect Your Children. Numerous speakers made claims that they were being labeled in their hometowns as domestic terrorists, school board members were unresponsive to their efforts to meet about the curriculum and that they were being labeled as homophobic.
Nicole Gallo claimed children will be forced to learn “obscene and pornographic material that has no relevance in education…Each family has a right to teach their children what they deem is moral and ethic.”
“Let’s ban Dr. Seuss, but books normalizing children having sex, using sex toys, experiencing glory holes, and crossing boundaries of society’s moral standards, and at times laws, seems to be quite acceptable to some,” stated Christopher Stadilis without offering specific examples of a New Jersey school district that had that as part of their lesson plan.
Renata Brand of Monmouth County complained the new standards go “against our Judeo-Christian values…The vast majority of parents in New Jersey are Judeo-Christian. Family values are being undermined (and) parental rights are being subverted by the very schools that were entrusted by the parents to teach our children. The children are being corrupted and confused.”
State Sen. Michael Doherty (R-23), a member of the committee, argued that “the first step that must be accomplished to address the significant and legitimate concerns of parents is to repeal the controversial new sex education mandates completely, and to put decisions about how to teach sex education 100% into the hands of local school boards, parents, and their communities.”
Rev. Gregory Quinlan, who described himself as “ex-gay” and opined homosexuality is a religion, said about the bill that “regardless of what you get to look at, regardless of how transparent these things are, we’re still going to go ahead, we’re still going to push this perversion on our children.”
He then claimed the standards would be used to “groom” students for sex traffickers—an argument often raised by the far right that claims LGBTQ people are trying to indoctrinate children.
“Transparency doesn’t matter if you’re going to continue to do this ugly stuff,” said Quinlan. “There seem to be a concerted effort from the governor, his wife and the Democratic party to sexually exploit our children and put them at great danger.”
At that point Gopal cut him off, stating “Sir, you are completely out of line.”
The committee did hear testimony from supporters of the bill, including Melanie Schulz of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators who stated “I understand what the people are concerned about. This bill course-corrects.”
Gov. Phil Murphy has asked the state Department of Education to clarify the statewide standards, which do not themselves mandate any explicit material and simply advise school districts to teach on sex and gender-related issues.
Specifics of the Bill
The bill, co-sponsored along with State Sen. Joseph Lagana (D-38), would require local boards of education to offer an annual opportunity for parents and guardians of students, as well as any resident, to ask questions, and provide comments on the health, family life education, and sex education curriculum proposed for the succeeding school year.
“We must eliminate confusion, and make sure any concerned parent knows exactly how to access curriculum information, how to choose to ‘opt-out,’ of certain teachings if they so desire, and how and where to pose questions concerning the given course of study,” said Lagana in a press statement. “Greater transparency and understanding will help ensure quality education around health and family life.”
The bill mandates districts to post in a prominent location on the district’s website information regarding how a parent or guardian may provide public comment on the health, family life education, and sex education curriculum. The school district website would also be required to list information regarding the parent or guardian’s right to decline their child’s participation in any part of that curriculum.
“The best way to bring clarity is to ensure that parents are fully informed in advance, are offered the opportunity to get engaged with school officials, to have their questions answered satisfactorily, and be given clear instructions on how to opt their children out,” added Gopal.