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Nebraska releases second draft of proposed health-education standards

Nebraska releases second draft of proposed health-education standards

The Nebraska Department of Education has revised its proposed health-education standards, stripping out many of the sex-education references that provoked a groundswell of opposition to its first draft.

Nebraska Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt said he hopes the changes are enough to move the standards forward.

This second draft of the standards is expected to be posted Thursday morning to the website of the Nebraska Department of Education and is open to public comment.

Absent in this version are many of the words, phrases and concepts that stirred criticism of the first draft, released in March.

Blomstedt said he expects that some people still won’t be satisfied — whether they are critics still upset by what’s included or others upset by what’s been cut.

He said he hopes that, moving forward, both sides can find common ground.

“Let’s agree to the parts we can agree on,” he said.

He said references to gender identity were “largely stricken.”

“Things around sexual identity ... are removed from this draft,” he said.

Some people, however, have told the department it needs to take on those issues, Blomstedt said.

He said he expects to hear criticism from advocates of LGBTQ students, who want to see themselves represented in the standards.

Some sex-ed topics were difficult to remove, he said. For instance, puberty is a topic schools are expected to teach about , he said.

“We tried to make sure that things that were widely accepted as part of the normal school expectations in health were still included,” he said.

State law does not mandate that the department write health standards, as it does with math and language arts, for instance. Nor is there any requirement that schools adopt them. The standards would be akin to the state’s standards for fine arts, which is not a core academic area.

Blomstedt said he did not run the revisions past Gov. Pete Ricketts, who sharply criticized the first draft, but he said the two have talked about the governor’s concerns.

Ricketts has been touring the state calling for scrapping the sex-education topics from the standards, saying they were not age-appropriate and that they were developed with input from activists.

As of last week, 47 Nebraska school boards had passed resolutions or sent letters to the department expressing opposition to the first draft. An opposition group calling itself Protect Nebraska Children has flooded meetings of the Nebraska State Board of Education to voice its displeasure.

Supporters of the first draft said the original wording would save lives. They had said the language recognizing diverse family structures, gender identities and sexual orientations would make those children and families feel welcome instead of leaving them ostracized and vulnerable to depression and suicide.

The new draft makes scant reference to gender identity, though it’s not completely gone.

While the drafters purged several detailed references to types of gender identity, the new draft calls for teaching seventh graders to recognize that “biological sex and gender identity may or may not differ.”

In addition, the new draft mentions gender identity in a glossary, defining it as “Internal deeply held thoughts and feelings about gender.”

The glossary also defines gender roles as “attitudes and behaviors that a society considers ‘appropriate’ for males and females.”

The draft contains no references to homophobia or transphobia, which had appeared in the first draft.

Under the new draft, sixth graders wouldn’t be taught the difference between cisgender, transgender, non-binary gender, expansive gender and gender identity. Nor would they learn about a range of identities related to sexual orientation including heterosexism, bisexual, lesbian, gay, queer, two-spirit, asexual and pansexual.

Kindergartners would not be taught about different family structures including co-habitation and same-gender families.

Fourth graders would not learn to differentiate between sex assigned at birth and gender identity.

Fifth graders would not be taught that gender expression and identity exist along a spectrum.

The new draft mentions gender and sexual orientation as examples within a harassment definition.

The draft includes a statement that the standards recognize “the rights, duties and responsibilities of parents, guardians and families as primary educators.”

The department is releasing the draft ahead of the August 6 meeting of the Nebraska State Board of Education.

The board members have final approval on adopting the standards, but that action is not expected until the fall.

Department spokesman David Jespersen said the department will open another public comment period during which people can submit comments.

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Joe covers education for The World-Herald, focusing on pre-kindergarten through high school. Phone: 402-444-1077.

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