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EAST HANOVER, New Jersey (WABC) — A school district in New Jersey said in a letter to parents that it will begin teaching new sexual education standards that include discussion on sexual orientation and gender identity for younger kids, but the lessons will be limited to the last day of classes and parents will have the option to opt out their children.

East Hanover Superintendent Natalee Bartlett outlined the district’s plans for the new guidelines, which were adopted two years ago, take effect next fall after a pandemic delay, and have sparked outrage from some parents.

The guidance details what schools should teach students by the end of second, fifth, eighth, and 12th grade, with the most controversial concepts revolving around lessons that discuss:

  • Gender identity for second graders
  • Puberty and masturbation for fifth graders
    • Understanding types of intercourse for eighth graders

    While the state does set standards or expectations of what students should learn, it does not determine the curriculum or craft lesson plans. It remains up to the districts to choose instructional materials, and school boards are encouraged to get community feedback.

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    In her letter, Bartlett wrote that the new lessons will be co-taught by physical education teachers and school nurses and will be announced in advance so that parents and guardians will have ample time to inform schools whether their children will attend.

    “We intend to loosely interpret the standards and apply simple and succinct definitions to terms,” she wrote. “We are not going to discuss these terms in depth or provide instructional guides or materials. Those students who are not attending will be provided with alternate activities during these instructional periods.”

    Bartlett wrote that the lessons will be taught on the final day of classes to limit the sharing of information between students.

    “Please know that we will not change our current lesson-planning or curriculum offerings based on the updated standards,” she wrote. “As a district, we have decided that we will incorporate the new standards into one single classroom period (35 minutes) of instruction for grades 2, 5, and 8 at the end of the year. We also understand that children who are in the classes might want to share some information with other children. Therefore, the periods will occur on the last day of school next year (2023) to minimize the sharing of information.”

    Bartlett said the district supports parents serving as the primary source of sexual education, and that she anticipates some changes to the guidelines due to the outcry.

    “We also believe that the state is acknowledging its overreach, and has begun distancing itself from some of the new standards,” she wrote. “It would not surprise us if many of these topics are altered prior to the new school year. However, as we agree that some topics may be uncomfortable for students, parents and guardians, we want to remind parents/guardians that they have the option of excluding their children from any portion of sexuality education instruction if it is in conflict with conscience, moral, or religious beliefs.”

    Gov. Phil Murphy has directed the state Department of Education to review the standards, issuing the following statement.

    “New Jersey’s world-class public education system is the best in the nation because of our strong school communities where everyone – parents, students, educators, administrators, and coaches – is heavily invested in the academic and social success of our kids. To be clear, we value and respect these voices and the communities they represent in any decision made affecting our students.

    “Our Comprehensive Health and Physical Student Learning Standards were crafted over 5 months in collaboration with many stakeholders, including parents, experts, and teachers, to ensure that our students receive age-appropriate and inclusive health education, which is critical for their physical, mental, and emotional development and well-being. At a time when we must prioritize student mental health and academic recovery in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is paramount that our standards also promote inclusivity and respect for every child, including LGBTQ youth. In New Jersey, parents always have and always will have a say in their child’s education, which includes opting their child out of any health lesson that they would rather discuss in the privacy of their own home.

    “Unfortunately, our learning standards have been intentionally misrepresented by some politicians seeking to divide and score political points. At the same time, we have seen a handful of sample lesson plans being circulated that have not been adopted in our school districts and do not accurately reflect the spirit of the standards. Any proposed educational content that is not age-appropriate should be immediately revised by local officials.

    “To this end, I have directed my Department of Education to review the standards and provide further clarification on what age-appropriate guidelines look like for our students. My Administration is committed to ensuring that all of our students are equipped to lead healthy, productive lives now and in the future.”

    Bartlett ended her letter by advising all those with additional concerns to reach out to Gov. Murphy’s office.

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