Categories: NewsNJ DOEState

Here Are the Facts On How Murphy’s Ed Department Changed Learning Standards for Sexual Education and Gender Identity

Everyone is talking about the “new” Student Learning Standards–actually passed almost two years ago by the State Board of Education on the recommendation of Gov. Murphy’s then-Education Commissioner, Lamont Repollet. For the background on how this came about I’m reprinting the piece I wrote in June 2020 (see below), breaking the story that, for instance, the new Standards recommend that 8th-graders be taught how to “define vaginal, oral, and anal sex.”

Notice the word “recommend.” The actual course content and curricula is the responsibility of your local school board, upon recommendation of your superintendent. As Senator Vin Gopal explained yesterday, the only items that are required are that school districts  “highlight and promote diversity, equity, inclusion, tolerance and belonging on topics including: gender and sexual orientation; race and ethnicity; disabilities; religious tolerance; and unconscious bias; and encourage safe, welcoming, and inclusive environments for all students regardless of race or ethnicity, sexual and gender identities, mental and physical disabilities, and religious beliefs.” Also, parents can opt their kids out of this instruction.

Much has been made of the recommendations made to the Westfield Board of Education by a group called Advocates for Youth. From today’s Washington Post:

One sample lesson plan for first-graders, titled “Pink, Blue and Purple,” says students are to be taught, “You might feel like you are a boy, you might feel like you are a girl. You might feel like you’re a boy even if you have body parts that some people might tell you are ‘girl’ parts.” Another sample lesson plan for second-graders involves identifying the body parts and states “there are some body parts that mostly just girls have and some parts that mostly just boys have.”

Westfield superintendent Raymond González says the district is not adopting those lessons and told the Post, “the cited sample plans were part of a website that was included as a link to illustrate the type of possible resources for school districts shared by the N.J. Department of Education. We have said repeatedly that these are resources only and that they are not state-mandated.”

In addition, Gov. Murphy, keenly aware of all the blowback, is hinting he may ask his DOE to revisit these Standards.

So what actually happened at that June 2020 State Board of Education meeting where the members adopted the DOE’s recommendation by a vote of 8-4? Read on below.

Yesterday the New Jersey State Board of Education approved new Student Learning Standards, a practice that occurs every five years. Typically these exercises are pro forma: Standards, after all, align with what we used to call Common Core and votes are traditionally unanimous..

Not this time. Instead, Board members were split and the final vote was 8-4.

Why? According to Vice President Andrew Mulvihill, there was some consternation about the 65-page section on Comprehensive Health and Physical Education, which had the most changes from the 2015 Learning Standards. Among a number of additions is this one (on page 32) that will be taught in 8th grade: “Define vaginal, oral, and anal sex.”

Mulvihill tells me that when the State Board has regional meetings, which are more conducive to public input, he often hears parents with passionate feelings about what is appropriate and inappropriate for their children to learn, especially about sex. When he first reviewed the draft of the standards he approached DOE leaders to explain his concerns but they were “dismissive.” Another Board member, Ernest P. Lepore, suggested at yesterday’s meeting that the DOE might consider a policy that parents specifically “opt-in” to lessons on vaginal, oral, and anal sex, especially since parents often miss the notice to “opt-out.”. This idea was dismissed as well, with the DOE claiming that if the Board didn’t approve the whole package (663 pages) that it would all have to be redone. 

“I couldn’t in good conscience vote for this, beyond my own views,” Mulvihill said, “after hearing the passion on both sides from the public.” 

The meeting was led by Commissioner Lamont Repollet and Deputy Commissioner Linda Eno. Their mood was “jovial,” with Repollet apparently eager to assume his new post as president of Kean University, ranked 129th among 170 regional four-year colleges.

Laura Waters

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