Jeremy Ekeler, associate director of education policy for the Nebraska Catholic Conference, addresses proposed school health standards at a State Board of Education meeting April 2 in Lincoln. GWYNETH ROBERTS/LINCOLN JOURNAL STAR

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Proposed state education health standards rouse opposition

Nebraskans are pushing back against proposed health standards for state public schools.

Many see the standards, which would teach acceptance of multiple gender identities and homosexuality, as part of a radical political agenda.

They also see the standards as one more reason to help provide families other educational options for their children.

LB364, a bill which would provide scholarship opportunities to students from low-income families to attend private schools, would be one way to help, according to the Nebraska Catholic Conference (NCC).

If a school district adopts the controversial standards, it would put many families at a nexus and have them asking: “What are my options?” said Jeremy Ekeler, associate director of education policy for the NCC.

Families could transfer their children to private schools, but not all families can afford that option. That’s why LB364 is important, Ekeler said.

He has said the proposed health standards are a “deeply flawed, ideologically driven document” that doesn’t represent the perspectives of many Nebraskans.

The standards never mention marriage and disregard the primacy of parents as the educators of their children, he said.

“Parents are placed in the role of trusted adult, rather than where they should be, which is the primary educator of their child.”

“Probably 80% of the document is really strong” and would teach noncontroversial notions such as wellness, nutrition, hygiene and healthy habits, Ekeler said. But a section on human growth and development is the stickler, with ideas drawn from three ideologically driven organizations, all with ties to Planned Parenthood, he said.

Many of the standards are taken from the Future of Sex Education Initiative, a partnership between Advocates for Youth; Answer; and Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S. (SIECUS).

Based on the groups’ websites, they see their standards as promoting social justice and a way to bring about a long-term culture shift and the dismantling of systems of power; they fight abstinence-only programs and crisis pregnancy centers, saying they “peddle biased information masquerading as sex education.”

The “science” used by the groups – including a study that says “those who agree with statements reflecting traditional male gender roles (are) significantly more likely” to perpetrate violence on sexual partners – is faulty and used to justify their work, Ekeler and others have said.

“When you get to human growth and development, it’s such a departure from the strong educational practices” reflected in the rest of the proposed standards, Ekeler said. “It becomes so ideological and so dismissive of parents.”

The standards “promote a false understanding of God’s design for marriage and human sexuality,” he said.

GRADE-SPECIFIC RECOMMENDATIONS

The standards, set forth by an advisory board for the State Board of Education, would teach kindergarteners about different kinds of family structures, including single parent, blended, intergenerational, cohabitating, adoptive, foster and same gender. Noticeably absent is traditional marriage between a man and woman, Ekeler said.

Among other topics, fourth-graders would learn to “distinguish between sex assigned at birth and gender identity”; fifth-graders about the “role of potential hormone blockers on young people who identify as transgender”; sixth-graders about identifying “factors that are important in deciding whether and when to engage in sexual behavior” and to learn “a range of identities related to sexual orientation (e.g. heterosexual, bisexual, lesbian, gay, queer, two-spirit, asexual, pansexual)”; and eighth-graders about pregnancy options.

The board is not required by state law to create health standards, as it does in core subjects such as math, English, writing, science and social studies. But in the past the board has recommended standards for other non-core subjects.

If approved, the health standards would be recommended for local public school districts, which are required to have standards or a framework for health education.

OFFICIAL OPPOSITION

Gov. Pete Ricketts and 28 of 49 state senators have voiced their opposition to the human growth and development standards of the document, asking the State Board of Education to eliminate sex education and ideologically motivated topics.

“I am calling on the Nebraska Department of Education to scrap their proposed sex education topics that are included in their draft health standards,” the governor said in a March press release. “The new standards from the department would not only teach young children age-inappropriate content starting in kindergarten, but also inject non-scientific, political ideas into curriculum standards. The sex education standards represent a significant shift in approach to health education, and many of the new themes are sensitive topics that should be addressed by parents at home and not by schools.”

“The draft standards were developed with the help of political activists, and without the input of key mainstream organizations. I am urging Nebraska parents to speak up now, and to share their reaction with the department ….”

The state senators said the standards violate the rights of parents as the first educators of their children.

More than 60 people, including Ekeler, spoke out against the human growth and development standards at a State Board of Education meeting April 2.

ACTION NEEDED

Ekeler said people still need to voice their concerns over the proposed health standards and to support school choice measures, such as LB364.

“If you haven’t considered the importance of school choice for families, I think in light of the ideological moves by the State Board of Education, people should give strong consideration to supporting school choice,” he said. “People without means who want a Catholic or Christian education are really in a tough spot.”

Nebraska is one of just three states without school choice options, Ekeler said.

LB364 would provide tax credits for donations to scholarship-granting organizations raising funds for children of low-income families to attend private schools. Legislators combined another similar measure into LB364 that would also give tax credit support to early childhood education centers.

“So now it’s kind of a pre-K through 12 school choice bill,” he said.

Although the health standards would never be implemented in Catholic schools, they would nonetheless affect the culture at large, and especially Catholic students and teachers in the public schools, Ekeler said.

He urges Catholics to email or write a letter to their Board of Education representatives and to help educate others on the proposed health standards, to share “the beauty, truth and goodness of Catholic education to others” and to encourage others to speak out.

For a limited time, the Nebraska Department of Education is seeking input on the health standards through a survey on its website.

People are also encouraged to join the NCC Advocacy Network by signing up at necatholic.org/be-an-advocate/.

“For Catholics, the duty to bear the light of Christ is vital considering that many of these standards are diametrically opposed to Catholic teaching,” Ekeler wrote on the NCC website. “The introduction of this material to children is a serious blow against the truth-filled reality of God’s plan for marriage, procreation, and family.”

“By voicing your thoughts you are expressing the truth of Christ’s purpose for sexuality, marriage, gender, and children via our education system.”