New Jersey’s Department of Education (NJDOE) is reminding school districts they will face “disciplinary action” if they do not implement the controversial health and sex education standards this year.
New Jersey Student Learning Standards are mandatory “and failure to comply can result in disciplinary action. For any children to be excused from any part of instruction in health, family life, or sex education, their parent or guardian must inform the school principal in writing that the instruction conflicts with their conscience or sincerely held moral or religious beliefs,” according to a published statement from the NJDOE.
Additionally, the NJDOE specified that parents who do not want their children to participate in these classes must write a letter to the principal explaining that the lessons contradict their personal values and beliefs.
At issue are health and sex education standards that the NJDOE adopted in June 2020. Republican lawmakers, under a parental rights initiative, contend that the standards delve into a range of sex and sexuality-related topics before children reach appropriate ages for learning about them.
GOP lawmakers last month held a virtual hearing with school board members, experts, and concerned parents for over two hours, whose objections focused on parental rights they feel is being ignored when it comes to objection around the appropriate grades to discuss such topics and, as gender expression and identity, sexual activity and masturbation, especially for kindergarten through sixth grade.
Fight with NJEA
“Parents are angry. They feel ignored, helpless, and frustrated,” said State Sen. Kristin Corrado (R-40) earlier this year. “With parenting comes responsibilities, and Trenton bureaucrats are usurping that authority and relegating Moms and Dads to spectators in the raising of their children. The role of parents is sacrosanct, and they should have a say in every aspect of the education of their children.”
Republicans and activists anger on the subject increased further when the New Jersey Education Association ran ads in the run up to the start of school that attached what they called “extremists” for their aggressive tactics at school board meetings in the last year for issues such as COVID protocols, parental rights and concerns about how young to teach about sex in New Jersey schools.
State Sen. Joe Pennacchio (R-26) said that the parents raising the issue were not “nefarious actors” but “just concerned moms raising their children.”
From the NJDOE point of view, the standards are minimum expectations that permit school districts to implement them very broadly. The department reiterated that state law allows parents to opt their children out of health classes. Critics have argued this is unworkable due to lessons being incorporated in other subjects.
Some schools have developed alternative plans to adhere to the state standards—one North Jersey school is holding a one day class at the end of the year to adhere to the standards while other school boards across the state are having parents “opt in” to the lessons.
How Schools Are Tracked
NJDOE uses the New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum (NJQSAC) to track how well school districts are complying with the educational requirements—with the state verifying each district self evaluation. If a district falls below 80% in any one of five NJQSAC areas (instruction and program; fiscal management; governance; operations; and personnel), a plan for performance improvement is required.
“Following the assessment, the district is placed on a performance continuum that will determine the level of oversight, and technical assistance and support it receives,” the state said of non-compliant districts. The state will have the final authority on if additional monitoring or intervention is warranted.