MATRISCIANO: Here is a Statewide Strategic Action Plan for Education in New JerseyDecember 7, 2022
Top Education Advocate to Murphy’s Department of Education and State Board: The Madness Must StopDecember 7, 2022
Today’s State Board of Education meeting was a six-hour marathon as Board trustees, Acting Commissioner Angelica Allen-McMillan, and Education Department staff members plodded through an extensive agenda that included (at last!) a public discussion of last spring’s test scores, new initiatives to close learning gaps, reframing of Bilingual Education, salutes to various teachers and principals, and a review of a set of regulations in Chapter 7 called “Managing for Equality and Equity in Education.”
The discussion of Chapter 7 was contentious. Here are some highlights.
- The Department of Education’s original proposal, as cited here, included changing the term “achievement gap,” which it says signals a “deficit” mindset, to “opportunity gap,” which is “asset-based.” After what one can presume is blowback from less woke Board members, the DOE has elected to shelve the new terminology. Also, in Chapter 7 the word “equality” appears often and the DOE would change it to “equity.” However, the word “equality” remains in the title. President Kathy Goldenberg expressed confusion with this decision. Other Board members agreed; the DOE may change the title in time for the second reading of the regulations when the Board will formally vote on accepting Chapter 7.
- The DOE proposes that some of its oversight responsibilities be taken over by Executive County Superintendents. This raised questions from Board members, including President Goldenberg.
- While discussing Comprehensive Equity Plans each district is required to submit, several members asked if they could see examples of plans that had indeed provoked positive change. The Commissioner pushed back on that and another board member suggested they ask for their local district’s Equity Plan.
- About 90 minutes into the Chapter 7 discussion, Vice President Andrew Mulvihill asked about a particular proposal from the DOE that says in classes about human sexuality, teachers should divide students not into boys and girls but by gender identity. This proposal appeared in Board members’ bundle of material but Mulvihill noted he hadn’t seen it in the slide deck currently being presented to the public. Apparently the DOE presenters had run right by it.
Here is that discussion, edited slightly for clarity and length:
Mulvilhill: “Can you bring up the slide or is it too difficult?”
Commissioner: “It’s too difficult.”
Mary Beth Berry*: “It’s not too difficult. Bring up the slide.”
[Board looks at slide, which says, “Portions of classes that deal exclusively with human sexuality may be conducted in separate developmentally appropriate sessions based on gender identity, provided the course content for such separately conducted sessions is the same.”]
Mulvihill: “I think we have to be very careful we’re not discriminating against folks by sex. What if you have a human sexuality class on menstruation and girls are uncomfortable talking about that in front of [biological boys who identify as female]? Are we choosing the right of a child with gender dysphoria over the rights of biological girls?”
Commissioner: “When you talk about a boy in class making girls uncomfortable with discussions about menstruation, you are bringing in a supposition that others may not share. You haven’t thought about how the student identifies. We may agree to disagree but this is the best direction and best course of action to best serve our students in the 21st century.”
Mulvihill: “I get what you’re saying, a boy who feels like a girl, but what’s the flip side? Just common sense, right, girls can be very uncomfortable. I think we have to be very careful we’re not discriminating against students based on sex. Both gender identity and sex need to be protected.”
Commissioner: “I have to back away from this discussion. The goal is that students are protected. Teachers are well-versed and skilled. During my [recent] testimony in front of the Senate Budget Committee I recalled that 20 years ago I was approached by parents who wanted to place their gender-identifying female child with girls. This is not a new phenomenon in our schools. I want to state our schools have been skillfully responding to these situations responsively.”
Mary Beth Berry:* “We received all this information on Saturday although those of us on the Policy Committee spent time looking at this section. We’re only speaking about classes that deal exclusively with human sexuality but, Commissioner, you gave an example moments ago about the placement of a child in school in general. I am thinking about a child born a biological girl and they have questions about their human sexuality that may be impeded because they are embarrassed now because there is someone in their class who wasn’t born with the same female parts. It’s not fair. It’s discriminating against students who are biologically male and biologically female and I think it’s worth having further discussion.”
Board member Joseph Ricca: “My heart breaks for transgender students if they’re feeling they’re ‘less than.’ If we ask about a child’s gender we’re imposing our will on them. When I’m thinking about public policy I have to think about all children. Gender identity is self-selecting. It’s not what we do. It is incumbent upon us to recognize that just because someone doesn’t conform to how we think doesn’t mean they’re not who they are. Discrimination is denying access. There’s no discrimination if schools divide by gender identity. If someone is uncomfortable the school will figure it out.”
Correction: *This article originally attributed the statements by Board member Mary Beth Berry to Kathy Goldenberg. NJER apologizes for the error.