Children as young as first grade would be taught about gender identity and gender stereotypes under draft public-school health standards released Wednesday by the Nebraska Department of Education.
The draft standards emphasize teaching children respect for people of all genders, gender expressions and gender identities.
Kindergarteners would be taught about different kinds of family structures, including “cohabitating” and same-gender families.
Fourth-graders would be taught the difference between sex assigned at birth and gender identity. Fifth-graders would be taught that gender expression and gender identity exist along a spectrum.
Sixth-graders would learn what sexual identity is and learn about a range of identities related to sexual orientation, among them heterosexual, bisexual, lesbian, gay, queer, two-spirit, asexual and pansexual.
They would learn the differences between cisgender, transgender, gender non-binary, gender expansive and gender identity.
Department officials say the 60-page draft Nebraska Health Education Standards were written by a team of educators, including school administrators and elementary, middle and high school teachers in the fields of physical education, health and family-and-consumer science.
According to the department, various organizations and individuals provided advice on the standards. The department said that among those on the advisory team were medical professionals, community health educators, professors and researchers, school psychologists, sexual health education specialists, dieticians, nurses, parents and representatives of local health departments.
The standards contain the skills and knowledge that state officials believe children in grades kindergarten through high school should know and be able to do in the subject area of health.
In addition to addressing gender issues, the standards address various health-related topics including the importance of nutrition and physical activity, dangers of substance abuse, injury prevention, social and emotional health, and human growth and development.
The latter includes sexuality and healthy relationships.
The Nebraska State Board of Education will consider approval of the draft later this year.
The state currently has no state health standards.
The board is not required under state law to create health standards, unlike core academic subjects of math, English, writing, social studies and science, for which the law mandates state standards. As such, the health standards, if approved, would only be recommended for adoption by local districts.
Districts are required by the state to have written health standards or frameworks for health education. Many districts use the National Health Education Standards or their own locally developed standards.
The board has previously approved similar recommended standards, beyond those required by law, in the areas of fine arts, physical education, world language and career and technical education.
The standards do not prescribe what curriculum materials a district should use. That decision is left to local districts.
Patsy Koch Johns, board vice president, said Tuesday she had not yet reviewed the draft.
She said she wasn’t prepared to say whether teaching elementary school students as young as first grade about gender identities was appropriate.
“I want to look at it more carefully in the context before I answer that question,” she said.
Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt said he anticipates debate regarding when introducing such concepts would be appropriate.
“The main point is the folks on the writing group, at least, thought those are things to put in front of the board at this point,” Blomstedt said. “And that will probably cause some intentional conversation about what’s appropriate at what level, and where do you have that dialog.”
He said the department will consider adjusting the draft based on public feedback from across the state.
The department plans to take public input on the draft.
People can review the draft standards here. Members of the public can submit formal comment by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or submit comments online at nde.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_8dI1y2pRSfXlG8R.
A department spokesman said a vote on the final draft standards would likely come next fall.
In the draft, human growth and development instruction would start in kindergarten.
Kindergarten students, for example, would learn medically accurate names for body parts, including genitalia. They would learn the difference between safe and unsafe touching.
Seventh-graders would learn about sexual intercourse, including vaginal, oral and anal sex and “their relationship to STD/HIV transmission.”
Eighth-graders would learn to “develop a plan to eliminate or reduce the risk of unintended pregnancy and STDs.”
Students would learn about abstinence as well as contraceptives.
High school students would learn how to find medically accurate sources of information about contraceptive methods, including emergency contraception and condoms — and local services that provide them. They would learn about pregnancy options, such as parenting and adoption, and prenatal care.
High school students would also analyze cultural and social factors such as sexism, homophobia, transphobia, racism, ableism and classism that, according to the standards, “can influence decisions regarding sexual behaviors.”
Our best Omaha staff photos of March 2021