GRAND ISLAND, Neb. — Gov. Pete Ricketts found a receptive audience Thursday as he started a tour to rally opposition to proposed health education standards.
At the Ramada Midtown Conference Center, Ricketts repeated his opposition to a draft of the standards released in March by the State Department of Education. The standards, among other things, call for teaching children as young as 6 about gender identity and gender stereotypes as a part of sex education.
Supporters argue that the draft standards will reduce bullying, prevent suicides and make schools more welcoming for all students.
Opponents, including the governor and at least 30 state senators, contend that the draft standards are inappropriate.
Ricketts specifically opposes standards under “Human Growth & Development” that include teaching elementary and middle-school age children about anal and oral sex, gender identity and nontraditional family structures.
Such “political” and “nonscientific” topics should be left to parents, Ricketts argued.
“Parents are the people who are primarily responsible for a child’s education,” he said.
Multiple people at the town hall expressed concern about the age-appropriateness of the subject matter being proposed. There were an estimated 150 people at the meeting — the first of two held by the governor Thursday.
Jeremy Ekeler, the Nebraska Catholic Conference’s associate education policy director, called for community intervention.
“It was immediately clear to me that these (standards) are flawed,” he said. “The voices of Nebraska were not being heard. Parents were not being included. And because of that, we got a bad result.”
Greg Brown, a University of Nebraska at Kearney sports sciences professor, said he spoke as an educator on health sciences and a concerned Nebraskan.
“A lot of these proposed sex education standards are not age-appropriate,” he said. “Children in kindergarten do not need health education standards about sexuality. Children in first grade do not need standards about gender identity. And children in middle school don’t need to learn about anal and oral sex.”
He added, “It seems to me like they’re trying to indoctrinate our children in things that are diametrically opposed to conservative family values.”
State Sen. Ray Aguilar of Grand Island called for the standards to be scrapped.
“Although parts of these standards are common sense ... other parts go far beyond what we expect our teachers to address in the classroom,” he said. “I don’t think any of us will disagree that it’s important to teach kindergartners to properly wash their hands. But I think we’d all agree it isn’t appropriate to teach a fourth grader concepts of transgenderism.”
Nita Lechner, who taught junior high-level sex education in Grand Island for 32 years, said she is “1,000% totally against” the proposed standards.
“They are developmentally inappropriate. It’s, to me, mass grooming, teaching our children that sex is OK,” Lechner said. “I think it’s great this is happening because this will wake parents up. It’s a great opportunity for parents to start interacting with their children on human growth and development.”
Facing fierce criticism, state education officials have indicated that they plan to revise the proposed standards.