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Opponents pleased, but sex-ed advocates hope state board doesn't halt standards development
Health education standards

Opponents pleased, but sex-ed advocates hope state board doesn't halt standards development

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.

Comprehensive sex-education advocates are holding out hope the Nebraska State Board of Education doesn’t halt writing of new health education standards.

But the possibility of an indefinite postponement when the board meets Friday pleased the opposition, which has mounted a relentless, months-long campaign to stop the proposed standards.

A board committee revealed this week it wants to indefinitely postpone the development of health education standards for Nebraska schools.

The committee chair is expected to make that recommendation at the board’s meeting at 9 a.m. Friday at the La Vista Conference Center.

The full board must vote on whether to approve the recommendation.

Leaders of the Protect Nebraska Children Coalition, which organized stiff and persistent opposition, issued a statement on the committee’s recommendation.

“We are pleased that the Nebraska Department of Education and Nebraska Board of Education has decided to table the process of approving Standards for Health Education. This process has been fraught with opacity and obfuscation from the very beginning. The citizens of Nebraska deserve better.”

Opponents have said the proposed standards would sexualize children and introduce them to sexual topics before they were mature enough to understand. But advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer youths argued that the proposed standards, by dealing with gender and sexual orientation, would be inclusive.

The Women’s Fund of Omaha, which advocated for the standards, indicated it hopes the board keeps the process alive.

A postponement would be a departure from what scientific research, health education professionals and medical expertise clearly support — comprehensive and inclusive sex education for all students, it said.

“We urge the State Board of Education to do the right thing for young people by finishing the work they have started ... “ the group said.

Sara Rips, legal and policy counsel for ACLU of Nebraska, said a postponement would “do a disservice to every Nebraska student.”

She said board members would be putting politics ahead of students.

“All students have a right to a public education and that education should include honest, inclusive and age-appropriate health education at every grade level,” she said.

Nebraska Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt said he’s not discouraged or disappointed by the committee’s recommendation.

“I think it’s the right direction to go,” Blomstedt said. “It gives us a little clear direction, and it puts the agency staff in a position that we can move on to some of the other pressing matters.”

The four members on the Teaching, Learning and Serving Committee, which made the recommendation, would need one additional board member to vote with them to halt the standards’ development. The board has eight members.

The committee, in calling for postponement, said it considered public comment and the requests from leaders of public and nonpublic schools to “postpone additional initiatives and extra efforts until after the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The committee produced a draft statement for the board to consider adopting. It calls for postponing the matter until the board can “determine the most appropriate time to address the topic of Health Education Standards after the pandemic has concluded, as determined by appropriate national, state and local health officials.”

Maureen Nickels, the president of the state board and a member of the committee, said board members would have a tough time garnering enough support to keep the process going.

But she said it’s hard to say how members will vote.

All four committee members supported recommending the statement, she said.

“We worked a long time on this, to make it so that everyone was good with it, at least bringing it out of committee to make this recommendation. Will they vote to support it? I don’t know. You never know how someone will end up voting in the end.”

She said schools “have a lot on their plate right now, and the board has a lot on our plate that we need to continue working on. So to postpone this was what was best recommended overall.”

The board is not mandated by state law to write health standards; nor are schools required to adopt what the board approves. Currently, local districts develop their own health standards., 402-444-1077

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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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