Commentary

Emails validate NCC’s position on Health Standards

By Jeremy Ekeler

The eruption caused by the Health Standards proposed by the Nebraska Department of Education (NDE) now reverberates in local and national media outlets that are exposing hundreds of internal NDE emails.

These emails were made public after concerned Nebraskans made official records requests. The NDE’s manipulation of process, disregard for parent voices, and engagement with activists are on display in the correspondence. The Omaha World Herald and Lincoln Journal Starand now the Washington Free Beacon, Life News and Breitbart have picked up the story.

Here’s an overview of some of the issues unearthed in the emails now published in the media.

ROLE OF ACTIVISTS

The Omaha World Herald’s Joe Dejka reported Oct. 19 that “in September 2019, Deborah Neary (State Board of Education member, an elected position) attempted to get her preferred experts on the writing team and told (NDE Commissioner) Matt Blomstedt and another employee that she was “very disappointed” when that didn’t happen. Neary urged them to include her experts “somehow.” The online version of Dejka’s story includes the actual emails, which speak for themselves.

The Free Beacon reported Oct. 21, “The Nebraska Department of Education lied to parents when it claimed no outside activist groups helped draft controversial sex education guidelines.” The article goes on to show Neary emailing NDE staff, “I want to make sure that Lisa Schulze is selected to help write the NDE Health Standards.” The Beacon continued, “Schulze’s job at the Women’s Fund of Omaha, which has doled out more than $8 million to Planned Parenthood and local transgender clinics, was seen as a qualification, rather than a conflict of interest, to draft education policies for the state’s nearly 360,000 students …. Schulze spent 15 years working for Planned Parenthood before joining Women’s Fund of Omaha ….”

Schulze and others were eventually added as advisors. Later Schulze texts Neary: “I have Natl experts ready to review them (the standards). Our creative director is driving to office to finish final edits on the fact sheet and we have talking points prepared that can go to the board.”

EXCLUSIONARY TACTICS

Despite the fluid movement of hand-picked advisors, the emails show that the NDE blocked the Nebraska Catholic Conference (NCC) from providing additional advisors. After being denied, the NCC offered a list of four experts with contact information for each. These experts, of varying backgrounds, support character formation, abstinence until marriage, and sound health and human sexuality practices.

None of these experts was contacted and now we know why. The emails between NDE officials exposed by local and national media make it clear: “Jeremy (Ekeler, of the NCC) is coming on pretty strong,” one NDE employee emailed with a frowning-face symbol.

“I know. I really think they want to advocate for abstinence only education as well as gender identity, sexual orientation, etc.; but that is only my assumption,” another employee responded.

One of the NCC’s recommendations, Father Sean Kilcawley, is certified as a Pastoral Sexual Addiction Practitioner Supervisor. He rightly pointed out that these radical sex education standards can be attributed in part to the fact that Christian representation was rejected by the NDE.

DISREGARD FOR PARENTS AND PROCESS

Emails also reveal disparaging comments about parents and citizens. At one point an NDE employee comments, “It sucks that there are so many crazy people” in response to the overwhelming opposition to the proposed Health Standards. Breitbart also published NDE email communication Oct. 14 that referred to the input of a grandmother as a “load of crap.”

On Oct. 14, the Free Beacon reported, “Deborah Neary complained to NDE employees and fellow board members that public feedback on the standards played too significant a role in its development. Neary, who did not return requests for comment, lamented that parents were able to have any input on what their children are taught.”

As Catholics who uphold the dignity and priority of parents as primary educators of their children, we find this disregard for parents and guardians deeply troubling. Considering that it comes from within the state’s preeminent educational entity, it is appalling.

The NCC was the first to present opposition to the Health Standards. The recent release of these internal NDE emails, and the subsequent media coverage, makes our April 2020 presentation to the State Board of Education appear prescient: Six months before media exposed these emails, we had publicly unpacked the ideological underpinnings of the Health Standards. In short, while unsettling to see the situation in black and white, these emails are a disappointing validation of the NCC’s position.

The NDE has deep cultural, systemic and personnel issues it must address. Whether they face these truths or not, the faithful must continue to pray and advocate in defense of God’s plan for marriage, family, sexuality and the dignity of our children. As we have said before, the shelving of the standards was just that, and we must remain vigilant against future attempts to impose a distorted vision of the human person on our children.

Jeremy Ekeler is associate director of Education Policy for the Nebraska Catholic Conference. Email him at jekeler@necatholic.org.