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Editorial: Nebraska can't sidestep these realities about young people and sex education
Nebraska Sex Education

Editorial: Nebraska can't sidestep these realities about young people and sex education

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Members of the Nebraska State Board of Education, from left, Robin Stevens, Lisa Fricke and Patti Gubbels, listen to public comments on April 2 during a hearing on proposed sex education standards.

The Nebraska State Board of Education is signaling it may back away from taking any action on optional sex education standards proposals for public schools. The board meets Friday and will likely decide.

Ending an effort to develop such standards, though, won’t remove important facts — facts the board members, and the public, need to understand. Nebraska can try to bury its head in the sand on this issue, but key realities will remain:

Young people need information to help them understand reproductive health. Some parents do a fine job informing their children. Other parents or guardians do not. Schools can play a constructive role in helping address this need.

A Nebraska high school student explained the need in a recent Midlands Voices essay. Her school taught her what side of the sidewalk a boy should walk on, she wrote, but “what I didn’t learn was about puberty and my reproductive health system. I didn’t learn how a person becomes pregnant, let alone about contraception. Consent and healthy relationships were never discussed. And they didn’t cover anything about sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Evidence shows that young people who receive accurate information on these subjects are more likely to delay sexual activity and proceed safely when they do become sexually active.

Nebraska young people suffer bullying and harassment because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. This is a serious problem for our society, and it shouldn’t be ignored.

Last year when COVID struck, a wide range of Nebraskans rightly expressed concern for young people’s mental health — this was a key reason why many Nebraskans supported a return to in-class instruction as soon as possible.

Similarly, all Nebraskans should share concern about the mental well-being of young people who must endure harassment over their sexual orientation or gender identity. As we said in an earlier editorial, “Those young people are not hypothetical. They’re not abstractions. They’re living, breathing human beings, the children and grandchildren of Nebraskans, still developing their sense of self, with a vital need to feel supported and appreciated by our society.”

Young people subject to harassment over their sexual orientation or gender identity are at greater risk of suicide.

Modern society is rightly working to end the centuries-old practice of stigmatizing people and forcing them to hide their true selves in regard to their sexuality. But such harassment still continues, especially when it’s directed toward young people by their peers. Evidence shows that such young people are at considerably greater risk of being bullied, having suicidal thoughts and attempting suicide, as an associate professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center noted in a Midlands Voices essay here.

Suicide, indeed, is the second-leading cause of death for young people in Nebraska and Iowa. Again, all Nebraskans should be resolute in wanting our state to support, rather than harm, the mental health of our young people.

A young person’s suicide has an additional consequence: It creates enormous pain for the individual’s family and peers. The ripple effects from that anguish can have lasting effects.

Perhaps the State Board of Education will try to turn away from these realities. But Nebraska, as a society, cannot. It is far better to acknowledge these concerns and address them, for the sake of our state’s young people.

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