'Transparency in Health and Sex Education Curriculum Act' advances despite outcry from parents, others
'Transparency in Health and Sex Education Curriculum Act' advances despite outcry from parents, others

Carly Sitrin

TRENTON, N.J. — The Senate Education Committee released Chair Vin Gopal’s “Transparency in Health and Sex Education Curriculum Act” on Monday, despite pushback from some parents, religious officials and conservative advocates who continue to claim the state’s sex education learning standards are “sexualizing” and “grooming” children.

Gopal (D-Monmouth) introduced the measure in an attempt to assuage some parents’ fears and concerns about how local school districts are implementing the state’s sex ed standards. But on Monday, Gopal found himself defending the measure against parents and advocates who said they “don’t trust” the lawmaker and were feeling “dismissed” by their local school boards.

“I think this bill is 100 percent based on transparency on the curriculum so we know exactly what is being taught in every school district across our 600 districts,” Gopal said.

Details: As written, NJ S2481 would require local boards of education (or boards of trustees at a charter school or renaissance school) to publicly post on their websites the approved curriculum for any instruction that would implement the state health and physical education standards, which include sex ed.

It would also require local school boards to solicit public comment on “any curriculum necessary” to implement proposed health and sex ed curriculum “for the succeeding school year.” In addition, it would provide parents with clear instructions about how they can opt their child out from sex education classes.

The bill was released from committee, 3-1, with one abstention. Sen. Michael Doherty (R-Warren) was the lone dissenting vote.

Pushback: Those testifying in opposition to the measure told the committee they were in favor of increased transparency in curriculum decisions and were demanding more parental control over the public education system but thought Gopal’s bill did not go far enough.

All those who spoke against the bill took issue with the statewide standards themselves and insisted they be repealed. Those standards are under the purview of the State Board of Education, which last week defended the language and the process by which the standards were updated.

Some parents on Monday said teaching acceptance for the spectrum of gender identities in schools violated their “freedom of religion” and said they were being “bullied” and “targeted” as “bigots” for their beliefs.

Among those testifying were Gregory Quinlan, the president of the Center for Garden State Families and self-proclaimed “ex gay” minister who “left the homosexual lifestyle in 1992,” and Shawn Hyland, a former congressional candidate in New Jersey’s 3rd District and former executive director of the Family Policy Alliance of New Jersey, an organization that opposes efforts or attempts to “normalize” transgender individuals “especially amongst impressionable children.”

The transparency of the bill itself also came up for debate. A draft of the bill text was not available for public review prior to Monday's hearing and several of those testifying said they signed up to speak without having had the opportunity to read the bill and prepare.

Background: Gopal’s measure comes amid a predominantly right-wing uproar over age-appropriate sex education in schools.

The intensity of the debate reached a fever pitch last month, and Gopal called on Gov. Phil Murphy and the state Department of Education to “clarify” the statewide learning standards. The DOE subsequently reiterated and defended the standards in a document addressed to school leaders, teachers and parents.

Acting Education Commissioner Angelica Allen-McMillan has also defended the standards as “designed to ensure that we can be responsive and respectful” to all students.

Tampon bill: Some of the same parents opposing the transparency bill also testified in opposition to another measure, NJ S1221 (22R), that would require public schools to provide “direct access to feminine hygiene products,” for free in all school bathrooms serving students in grades 6-12.

Similar measures have passed in California and Oregon, where supporters have said transgender men and boys who use their respective bathrooms also menstruate and should have access to hygiene products like tampons and menstrual pads.

Putting tampon dispensers in boy’s bathrooms “completely goes against our religious liberty,” one parent testified on Monday.

Doherty, who ultimately voted against the measure, said the bill is “the craziest bill I’ve ever seen” and said putting tampon dispensers in all bathrooms is “chaotic and confusing for society” and represents a “full-fledged frontal assault on young boys.”

“God made man and woman. That's it,” Doherty said. “If I was a sixth grade boy ... that dispenser would not be on the wall when I left.”

That bill was released, 3-2.