How blue New Jersey Republicans are fueling a new debate on sex education

The story is not true. The sample lesson plans disseminated by Shepisi were not mandated by the state, and the school system in question (where he was more than 40 miles from the Shepisi legislature in northern New Jersey) adopted them in writing. was not Another school district adopted some of the broader curriculum from which the lesson plan was based, with little community opposition, and he has used those lessons for four years.

Nonetheless, some Republicans in blue-green New Jersey have seized on the issue, more conservative states like Virginia and Florida, to motivate suburban voters ahead of the midterm elections. It uses rhetoric that taps into parental fear, a type of story that has become popular in the United States. Specifically, it ordered education officials to clarify what is covered under state sex education standards.

Democratic State Senator Bin Gopal, who represents a highly competitive legislative district, said this week: plans to submit a bill This provides greater transparency regarding curriculum decisions and allows parents to be more involved in the lesson planning process.

“This is a systematic attempt by political operatives to create confusion, misinformation and confuse people,” Gopal, chairman of the State Senate Education Committee, said in an interview. [state] The Ministry of Education and the other side will do a better job as long as they control the narrative, make sure the truth is more widely available, and don’t give in to conspiracy theorists.

New Jersey is just the latest, if unexpected, battleground in the national debate about what students are being taught in schools. In Virginia, parental anger over critical racial theories played a role in the election of Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin. In Florida, Republican Governor Ron DeSantis said:parental rights in educationHe’s considering running for re-election and seeking the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, which has been called a “don’t say gay” law by his opponents.

Sex education became a big issue in New Jersey’s tighter-than-expected gubernatorial election last year, but Republican candidate Jack Ciatarrelli ultimately left the school curriculum and leaned heavily into the property tax debate. did. state. Murphy won re-election by a narrow margin.

New Jersey does not have laws or policies that require kindergarten and second grade students to be taught about sex. There is no law or policy that mandates teaching elementary school children about medical treatments related to gender reassignment. Also, there is no law or policy that requires us to teach students under the age of 13 about the existence of pornography.

But efforts to fix the Democrats’ record have been sporadic and slow, and Republicans last week issued three to four press releases a day, tweeting their anger and trying to keep the narrative alive. Appeared on Fox News.

“You can’t verify the facts of fantasy. This isn’t real. It’s insanity,” Joseph Rikka, superintendent of education and a member of the State Board of Education, said in an interview. There is no substitute, and unfortunately I think there is a temptation to step out of reality and into an echo chamber where we are all screaming and yelling about things.”

If parents are concerned, “talk to your local school superintendent. Talk to your school board. Talk to your child’s teacher,” said Republican Ricca. Politicians know nothing about education.”

changing standards

Increased attention to Florida laws prohibiting instruction regarding gender identity and sexual orientation for the youngest students, as well as increased awareness and acceptance of LGBTQ people in mainstream society, has led to changes in curriculum standards in New Jersey. A new focus has been given.

But because the partisans singled out examples from sample lesson plans and overlooked the fact that parents in New Jersey always had the right to opt their children out of sex education classes, these standards actually say: It is almost ignored.

Murphy signed two bills in 2019 and 2021 to teach middle and high school students about the social contributions of LGBTQ people and people with disabilities, addressing issues related to gender and sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, disability, and religious It is mandated to emphasize and promote “diversity of social tolerance”. For students in grades K-12.

Between these signatures, state boards of education released revised student learning standards, including a provision that students must be able to define oral, vaginal, and anal sex by eighth grade. By fifth grade, teachers “describe general human sexual development and hormonal roles (e.g., romantic and sexual feelings, masturbation, mood swings, timing of puberty onset)” and second grade should be able to “discuss the ways of being human”. Express your gender and how gender role stereotypes can limit your behavior. ”

The Republican uproar was caused more by these standards than by the sample lesson plans available to help school districts meet state guidelines. The proposed lesson plan that sparked the controversy came from the advocacy group Advocates for Youth, with a left-leaning, progressive mandate: , from too often condemning young people and their sexual development, to embracing young people as partners and recognizing sexuality as normal and healthy.”

skepisi pointed out on twitter There are relatively few sample lesson plans provided by advocacy groups that adhere to state standard requirements. She said schools “may feel compelled to choose from a limited menu of options currently available.”

But Republicans argue that the lesson plans are evidence that Democrats are pushing an “awakened agenda” for children.

When the state school board added gender identity references to statewide standards in 2020, 10 of the board’s 13 members had been appointed or signed by Republican Gov. Chris Christie. His vote on the revised standard was 9 to 4, with four of his Christie-appointed directors against and six in favor.

Christie also signed a 2017 law adding protections for transgender students to state education guidelines.

Despite the fact that the 2020 standards are largely similar to those in force under his administration, Christie Posted on Twitter last week “These new standards have to be voided and we have to start over. please.”

republican message

After Shepisi first posted about a sample lesson on social media, it quickly fell prey to conservative blogs, with a Fox News guest reporting that state freshmen and sophomores were subjected to “psychological torture” and “predatory training.” “I spent days falsely claiming that I was exposed to grooming,” the words were used by supporters of the QAnon conspiracy theory and by some who support legislation that rolls back the rights and protections of LGBTQ people. It has been repeated by conservatives.

Republican-elected officials in New Jersey eschew the word “groomed,” while comment feeds on Twitter and Facebook show unsubstantiated pedophilia and child abuse against Democrats, school leaders, and the media. Accusations abound.

Chris Russell, a New Jersey Republican strategist, says this kind of extreme right-wing buzzword is ineffective in the state and doesn’t resonate with typical socially moderate New Jersey Republican voters. said, but Republicans should still find a way. Take advantage of that parent’s wrath.

“Even if it flows into radical messages on our part about grooming, it does nothing to advance our debate. I think we’re probably giving it a hammer,” said Russell, who served as Chia Tarelli’s top adviser in the 2021 gubernatorial campaign.

Still, Russell said Republicans “would be really smart” to “absolutely lean into these things” ahead of this year’s congressional midterm elections and next year’s New Jersey legislative election. a wider group of people. ”

While New Jersey has no chance of enacting its own Florida-style law banning classroom teaching on gender identity and sexual orientation while it’s under Democratic control, lawmakers already believe parents can make curriculum decisions. We have introduced a number of bills that give us more control.

New Jersey Republican Senator Ed Durr bans classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity, allowing parents to sue teachers and schools for alleged violations, damages, or attorney fees proposed the law.

Other lawmakers have introduced legislation requiring parental consent for students to participate in health, home life education, or sex education programs. It would completely eliminate statewide learning standards, including standards for subjects such as math, literacy, and science.

Shepisi and other Republicans say the state’s standards are “going too far” and need to be reviewed.

“There is a big difference between teaching children who feel they may be transgender to be loving, kind and accepting and providing them with the right resources. has now gone to the other extreme of convincing children that they might not be,” Shepisi said. “I think if I grew up in my current environment, someone would try to convince me that I’m transgender at this point,” he told lawmakers.

Shepisi’s point about the concern that schools are “convincing kids that they might not be” is a well-documented but unsubstantiated myth about transgender people.

Still, parental uncertainty about being too young to talk about transition-related health care isn’t exclusive to Republicans, it’s about how trans people and their bodies are discussed, sensationalized, and obsessed. It stems from a larger social debate.

Eva Goldfarb, a researcher at Montclair State University who has studied the sex education literature for 30 years and helped co-author some of the lesson plans found by Shepisi et al. and teaching concepts is not “confusing”. Inappropriate.

“It’s not that children by the age of eight are immune to ideas about gender, gender identity, sexual expression and sexual orientation because it’s all around them in cultures around the world. is,” Goldfarb said in an interview. “By the age of four, virtually all children have a sense of their gender identity…they have an idea of ​​what it is to be a girl and what it is to be a boy.” will ask questions and be curious.”

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