TRENTON — Gender identity and sexual orientation as part of health and physical education lessons in public elementary schools remain a hotbed of controversy, even after Gov. Phil Murphy’s announcement that the state would reexamine the framework.

Lawmakers from both major political parties have called for a pause to ensure age appropriateness when it comes to actual classroom applications, as the standards were set to be enacted in time for the 2022-2023 school year.

"These standards were adopted in the spring of 2020 when everyone had a few other things on their minds. The silver lining of the release of the controversial curriculum is that everyone is paying attention," Sen. Declan O’Scanlon said in a written statement to New Jersey 101.5. "Let’s take advantage of that fact and work with parents to develop standards that work for all… especially our kids.”

O'Scanlon, R-Monmouth, continued “It should be made clear that the problem here is with curriculum and standards, not the LGBTQ community. Those attempting to weaponize this debate against this community must stop. Division and animosity help no one.”

Around the time of Murphy's announcement on Wednesday, a dozen Democratic South Jersey legislators issued a joint statement urging such a “thorough review.”

"We believe parents, healthcare professionals, educators, and boards of education must all be together at the table to help guide children through the next stages of their education, particularly after two years of difficult learning loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Governor Murphy should immediately conduct a thorough review of the health sciences curriculum framework to ensure that only age-appropriate lessons are being taught to our children.

 

It is critically important to ensure that school children receive a well-rounded, science-based education that also respects their natural stages of development.

 

 

If there are local boards of education that are acting beyond the scope of the intended curriculum, the Department of Education should act swiftly to bring them in line with acceptable standards."

The joint statement was signed by Senators Jim Beach, Fred Madden, Nilsa Cruz-Perez and Troy Singleton, as well as Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald and Assembly members Pamela Lampitt, Herb Conaway, Carol Murphy, Paul Moriarty, Gabriela Mosquera, Bill Moen and Bill Spearman.

In exchanges on Twitter, O’Scanlon was also asked to condemn the frequent use of inflammatory words by some critics of any inclusion of gender identity issues in the classroom.

“I have done so…reiterate here again…those people accusing anyone of being a pedophile or “groomer” in the context of policy disagreement need to stop. Personal, unfounded attacks diminish value of legit debate and are cruel.I have problems w/curriculum. Firmly support LGBTQ community.”

Sen. Holly Shepisi, R-Bergen, said that a “disinformation alert” released by NJEA about a potential curriculum was “disingenuous, at best.”

In a written statement, she pointed to a couple of sample lesson plans offered for use by the non-profit “Advocates for Youth,” which have been widely shared on social media amid the heightened concern over how standards will be applied in classrooms.

Those sample lesson plans, which are not adopted at the state level, include a potential gender identity lesson for second graders, and a lesson on hormones, including hormone blockers, for fifth graders.

“Progressive groups have been trying to incorporate their far-left ideologies into our children’s curriculum for years,” Schepisi said.

Standards versus curriculum

Revised education standards include gender identity and sexual orientation as just one part of comprehensive health and physical education, depending on grade level.

Standards are set at the state level and define what is to be learned by the end of a school year.

Curriculum refers to the detailed plan for day-to-day teaching — it varies from district to district.

Grades are banded together in the plans as Kindergarten through second and grades third through fifth.

The next “bands” for lesson standards are grades 6 through 8 and high schoolers, grades 9-12.

Among the standards now being scrutinized, there is a suggestion for the youngest grades (K-2) to “discuss the range of ways people express their gender and how gender role stereotypes may limit behavior.”

For grades 3-5, the basic difference between sexual orientation and gender identity is mentioned in the state DOE standards, as revised in June 2020.

A day before Murphy's call for the standards to be reviewed, Sen. Vin Gopal, D-Monmouth, had said that a great deal of misinformation was being circulated and that state officials should step in to reassure and inform parents.

He said that the guidelines were meant to “highlight and promote diversity, equity, inclusion, tolerance and belonging, on topics including gender and sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, disabilities, religious tolerance.”

“I think it’s imperative on the Department of Education and the governor to take a pause, and provide clarity provide an easy one-pager, say exactly what’s in there, what the districts can and can’t do,” Gopal previously said.

With previous reporting by David Matthau and Rick Rickman

Erin Vogt is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach her at erin.vogt@townsquaremedia.com

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