The first two drafts of the Nebraska Department of Education’s proposed health standards contained sections on comprehensive sex and sexuality education, which the Nebraska Catholic Conference strongly opposed. SIMEZ78/SHUTTERSTOCK

Commentary

Health education standards postponed – for now

By Jeremy Ekeler

Faithful, Watchful Citizens

 

Despite overwhelming opposition, the Nebraska Department of Education (NDE) dragged Nebraskans into another month of debate about their proposed Nebraska Health Education Standards.

State Board of Education meetings have become dramatic, as board members tussle over procedural matters, citizens take the mic for public comment to expose a dysfunctional system, and two drafts of deeply flawed ideological content are scrutinized.

None of this need to have happened; the NDE chose to pursue this work. More incredibly, they have prioritized it during the pandemic as families and schools are in crisis.

Unfortunately, Nebraska is not immune to a well-funded national movement to sexualize children, infringe on parent rights and normalize contraception and abortion. Local and state school boards around the country have become epicenters in the battle over a simple question: Who are the principal educators of children?

As people of faith, we know there’s no debate. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is clear: Parents and guardians are the primary educators of their children (no. 2223), and we demand the government honor this.

It is no surprise that from day one, the Nebraska Catholic Conference (NCC) has strongly opposed the comprehensive sex and sexuality education (CSE) sections embedded in the first two drafts of the proposed health standards.

At the NCC’s website, necatholic.org, you can find a breakdown of the troubling content from March’s first draft. It included topics like gender fluidity in first grade, sexual orientation in third grade, hormone blockers in fifth grade, anal and oral sex in seventh grade, contraceptives in eighth grade, and much more.

Despite significant cuts, the second draft released in July still contained CSE. For instance, seventh graders are taught that “sex and gender identity may or may not differ”; multiple obfuscations regarding sexually transmitted infections and “healthcare facilities” more than hint at Planned Parenthood involvement; and puberty blockers are barely hidden behind weak smokescreens beginning in fourth grade (children are asked to consider how they can “manage” puberty). Our website also includes NCC feedback on this second draft.

Fast-forward to the State Board of Education’s Sept. 3 meeting, where a proposal was made by the NDE’s Learning Committee to postpone all work on the health standards. Their empty rationale was that the health standards are distracting from COVID-related educational priorities.

Recall that the NDE chose this work and forced the issue upon Nebraskans in the middle of the pandemic. This pause on the development of the health standards is not about COVID; it is about an ideological agenda that had hit a wall of prayer, parent voices and reason.

In a show of their internal priorities, the board meeting was rife with board member pontification, the reading of internal emails detailing collusion with political activists, and debate that both displayed rifts within the board and critically questioned the accountability of the NDE to process and transparency. Ultimately, the board voted 5-1-1 (one absent) to postpone the work. Visit our website to see how your State Board of Education member voted.

While many celebrate this postponement as a victory for parental rights, we must remain vigilant. The health standards are shelved, not trashed. Board members, activists and the NDE will resume the health standards with a plan. Be on the lookout for updates and action items. Pay special attention to upcoming local elections.

To conclude, I’d like to share some nuggets that have been exposed during this process. First, we know that the NDE actually began work on the health standards in the fall of 2019. This means they have placed energy and resources behind ideological CSE standards for two years, even as COVID has crippled schools. Secondly, the NDE has misled us: They initially claimed this work was not about CSE, but now they and their supporters embrace it. Next, political activists like Women’s Fund of Omaha and Out Nebraska were invited to write and advise on the standards, while educators and experts who advocate for traditional marriage and abstinence were deliberately excluded. 

We all must demand more of the NDE and our State Board of Education. Transparency in process and content, as well as parent empowerment, are vital as we proceed. Finally, continue to pray for our children, our families, the NDE and the State Board of Education.

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