Is uproar over gender identity instruction in NJ schools overblown?
With the uproar continuing over New Jersey Department of Education guidelines for teaching students about sexual orientation and gender identity that will take effect in the fall, the chairman of the Senate Education Committee is calling on the Murphy administration to pause implementation of the guidelines.
State Sen. Vin Gopal, D-Monmouth, said that after reviewing 66 pages of Department of Education guidelines, a great deal of misinformation is being circulated and state officials should step in to reassure and inform parents.
What will kids be taught?
He said that the guidelines are meant to “highlight and promote diversity, equity, inclusion, tolerance and belonging, on topics including gender and sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, disabilities, religious tolerance.”
He said the guidelines are also designed to encourage “safe, welcoming inclusive environments for all students, regardless of their race or ethnicity, sexual and gender identities, mental and physical abilities and religious beliefs.”
Gopal said the main idea here is to “treat everyone, no matter who they are, what they look like, where they’re from, where they prey, with respect.”
It doesn't belong in school
Nevertheless, state Sen. Edward Durr, R-Gloucester, has announced plans to introduce a bill that would prohibit any instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through sixth grade.
“This is clearly a subject that is very sensitive, and by sensitive nature in itself, should be left to the home, to the parents," he said.
He said discussions about anything of a sexual nature should be handled the same way religion in schools is handled.
“We do not allow religion being force-fed in schools, so why would you force-feed a personal topic that is a parental right,” he said.
Durr noted many people have been calling emailing and texting his legislative office complaining about plans to require school kids to be taught about sexual orientation and gender identity, and he supports calls from Republican leaders to hold public hearings on the issue.
Take a pause
Gopal said because there is so much inaccurate information floating around “I think it’s imperative on the Department of Education and the governor to take a pause, and provide clarity provide an easy one-pager, say exactly what’s in there, what the districts can and can’t do.”
He said concerns raised by some lawmakers that teachers could be giving detailed lessons about sex and sex-related behavior to children in kindergarten and first grade are baseless.
“That’s insane, no rational person would want that. This is about making sure every child knows how to treat other children," he said.
Gopal pointed out kids will find out about many things they are interested in by simply going online or talking with their friends, so it makes sense for them to get accurate information in school.
“What’s important here, and I understand concerns from parents, is to make sure it’s age-appropriate, and that is left at the hands of the professionals who are the educators in these school districts,” he said.
Durr said his legislation that will soon be formally introduced also stipulates “if the school offers (classes on) these topics in violation of the law, the school, not the whole district but the school could lose state funding.”
Get parents' permission
Durr said the measure states starting in seventh grade the school can offer courses in these subjects, but parental consent would be required for students to take the class.
Durr’s legislation would also allow parents to sue school districts for alleged violations, damages and attorney’s fees, and teachers could be penalized as well.
He said if you take the word teacher out of the equation and tell somebody “an adult male was speaking to a minor child about sexual content, we would arrest that individual.”
Durr said discussions about sexual orientation just don’t belong in a classroom with young children.
“Let them grow up and then they can decide their sexual orientation and their identity, what they want to be or how they want to be. In school they should be focused on reading, math, English, history, dealing with the basic subjects.”
Several other Republican lawmakers have introduced or are planning to introduce measures designed to expand parental involvement in school curricula .
State Sen. Joe Pennacchio, R-Morris, is sponsoring one measure, S1571, that would require public schools to post curriculum plans online, another, S1570 to boards of education to publicly post their agenda 48 hours in advance.
He’s also got a bill, S2385, that would specifically remove the requirement that instruction on diversity and inclusion be provided in grades kindergarten through eighth grade, and another measure, S302 would require counties, municipalities, school districts and other local governments that receive funds from the state to establish a public finance website similar to the state’s transparency site.
State Sen. Kristin Corrado, R-Passaic, is sponsoring a measure, S4234, that would grant parents the right to engage in and direct their child’s education, including being able to opt their children out of any curriculum that conflicts with their conscience, or moral or religious beliefs.