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

Commentary

Second draft of health education standards still flawed

By Jeremy Ekeler

Faithful, Watchful Citizens

On July 29 the Nebraska Department of Education (NDE) released their highly anticipated second draft of the Nebraska Health Education Standards. Of particular interest is the Human Growth and Development portion of these standards. It is in this area that the NDE embedded troubling, ideological and harmful concepts in its first draft.

Let’s begin with some context for how we got here, and then talk about the new draft. On March 10, the NDE’s first draft was released. While there were some high-quality health-related standards, this draft also 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.

If it’s troubling to see these words in print, imagine them being taught in schools to children. In essence, the NDE’s first draft did two things: It sexualized children starting at age five, and it denied the role of parents as the primary educators of their children. At necatholic.org, the website of the Nebraska Catholic Conference (NCC), you can find a breakdown of the troubling content.

The NCC was the first to testify in opposition to these standards (on Good Friday nonetheless!) and submitted 15 pages of researched response to the NDE. We also led the way in uncovering issues underlying these standards. For instance, we found out the NDE’s advisory team consisted of political activists – both Out Nebraska and Women’s Fund of Omaha – who were invited to advise.

Furthermore, many of the problematic portions of the health standards were copied and pasted from the controversial National Sex Education Standards. This title is more self-promotion than fact as the document is not recognized by national government agencies. Rather, it is the collective work of political activist groups like Advocates for Youth, Answer and SIECUS (Sexual Information and Education Council of the United States). The contributors to this document include the lead educator for Planned Parenthood.

While it is troubling that the tax-funded NDE excludes certain local voices even as they rely upon activists, a deeper dive shows that the NDE is one of just two state education associations listed as a “legacy partner” of WISE (Working to Institutionalize Sexual Education). The other state is Oregon. I encourage Nebraskans to do their own research on these groups, look up WISE and study their donor base. After all, these are your tax dollars and elected State Board of Education representatives.

On July 1 Nebraska government officials took two significant steps in opposing the first draft. First, Gov. Pete Ricketts launched “Protect Our Kids & Schools” town hall meetings. (The NCC took part in all of these). Second, 30 senators called upon local school boards to reject the ideological portions of the health standards. A whopping 47 districts promptly did just that, and many more have considered resolutions.

And that brings us to the second draft released July 29. While the NCC is again breaking down this draft (look for our resources soon), three things must be acknowledged. First, the voices of thousands of parents were heard, and much of the NCC’s feedback was applied. We know this because much of the ideological and harmful material has been removed. Secondly, the NDE shows deference to local control and recognizes the role of parents. Third, we must remain vigilant because this draft does contain sex and sexuality education that must be addressed. For instance, seventh graders are taught that “sex and gender identity may or may not differ”; also the NDE’s linked Equity Lens document creates more questions than answers about their decision-making process.

With a final vote coming this fall, Nebraskans should be very concerned about the potential of a compromise draft. We must demand more improvements, not compromises that threaten children and undermine the role of parents, especially in matters of sex and sexuality.

Catholics are essential to this conversation. With 400,000 Catholics in Nebraska, we know there are tens of thousands of the faithful whose children attend public schools. Secondly, as one of only three states with no school choice law, many Catholics who wish to escape public school settings cannot. Most importantly, what may seem like a dark secular culture is actually a calling to bear the light of Christ.

Please pray for our schools, educators and the Nebraska Department of Education.

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