According to the Murphy Administration’s Department of Education, in September all New Jersey public schools must adhere to the new Student Learning Standards in Health and Physical Education. This has caused consternation among some parents and schools leaders because the new standards include second graders discussing “the range of ways people express their gender and how gender-role stereotypes may limit behavior,” fifth-graders explaining masturbation and sexual feelings, and eighth-graders defining “vaginal, oral, and anal sex.” Districts have responded in different ways, some embracing the new standards’ promotion of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and others arguing the standards are not age-appropriate.
Middletown Public Schools District has taken a more in-your-face approach: According to the Patch, parents will have to opt-in their children to each unit of the course content related to health, instead of the state-sanctioned opt-out option. Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum Jessica Alfone explains, “Through this transparent process, it is our goal to ensure that our parents/families have comfort and confidence in the content being addressed, but will also have the ultimate decision-making ability in determining what is best for (their) child.”
In other words, Middletown schools will inform parents of upcoming lessons; their child will not participate unless parents proactively “opt in.”
That’s not really kosher. In April Acting Commissioner Angelica Allen-McMillan, issuing a “clarification” ordered by Murphy (he said the standards had been “intentionally misrepresented,”) cited state statute 18A:35-4.7:
Any child whose parent or guardian presents to the school a signed statement that any part of instruction in health, family life education, or sex education is in conflict with his or her conscience or sincerely held moral or religious beliefs shall be excused from that portion of the course. Parents and guardians seeking to exercise this option should contact their local school principal directly.
And last month Murphy’s DOE announced that school districts that don’t adhere to the new Sexual Health and Physical Education course standards will be “penalized,” with consequences varying depending on the “severity” of the lack of compliance. Those penalities, some have speculated, could include loss of state aid.
Yet Middletown is taking its chances. The school board will approve the standards at their late August meeting and offer information sessions to parents so they know exactly what will be taught. “I’m confident that our administration has found a way to deliver instruction in an appropriate manner with the needs of the community in mind,” said Board vice president Jacqueline Tobacco. “Parents can come and see exactly what is being taught and there will be a Q&A session led by our new assistant superintendent Jessica Alfone.”
Will the DOE see it that way? Middletown is betting the Murphy Administration won’t elect to draw more fire during our sex ed culture wars.