The opposition came as the board approved the first reading of a policy that would change how the district adopts standards from the Nebraska Department of Education.
If passed, the policy would mandate any future proposed standards that are not required by law to be voted on by board members. Previously, any recommended content standards from the department were always automatically adopted.
If board members would choose not to adopt the proposed standards, the district would create its “own standards that are equal or more rigorous than those recommended by the state school board.”
The policy will go through a second and final reading during a public meeting at the central administration office located at 512 Phillip Ave. on July 22, at noon.
“I’m not sure why all of this is being replaced,” said one member of the public. “(The policy) is a good idea, of course … but I’m not sure exactly what this means. How can you make it equal and not the same?”
The creation of the policy was sparked by the proposed health education standards from the Nebraska Department of Education. The draft was announced in March, has undergone public review and will be going through a revision process before the state board of education votes on a final product.
The draft is for students in kindergarten through 12th grade and is the department’s first proposal for health standards in the state. It covers such topics as disease prevention, substance abuse prevention, human growth and development, nutrition, physical activity and more. It would be optional for districts if approved.
Thousands of Nebraskans, including Gov. Pete Ricketts, have been expressing opposition to the plan for months. Most concerns relate to the draft’s human growth and development section, which includes teaching students about gender identity, sexual orientation and gender stereotypes starting in elementary school.
Most of Monday’s public comments reflected the same opposition.
“Never in my 13 years as a mother have I considered home-schooling my children — that is, until recently,” said one NPS mother of three.
Many parents expressed thoughts such as that the plan is “sexually explicit” or endangers “the future of children.”
“What were you taught in school? Do you want your kids to be taught this stuff? Your grandparents taught this stuff? It’s just wrong,” said another NPS parent.
Superintendent Jami Jo Thompson said the district needed to change its current policy so that the school board could maintain control and have the ability to determine whether it wants to adopt the standards or create its own. If standards need to be created, the amount of rigor will determine how difficult the curriculum will be, Thompson said.
If the health education standards are accepted, the district’s teaching and learning committee will review the guidelines before making a recommendation to the board’s curriculum committee.
Committee members will then discuss whether the standards should be adopted, revised or rewritten and make a recommendation to the entire school board. A vote would then be made during a public meeting.
“I believe the state school board will strongly consider feedback that they have received,” Thompson said. “They have received thousands of comments … and they will make appropriate changes. I believe it would be premature to make a judgment on those standards until we receive the final language.”
Thompson said she recently received a letter from Matthew Blomstedt, the state’s education commissioner, stating the state school board is reviewing a second draft of the standards.
In the letter, Blomstedt said the draft would remove many of the explicit guidelines and refrain from sensitive topics.
Thompson said Blomstedt explained how the second draft would make clear that managing sensitive health-related topics should be conducted with parental input at the local level.
Sandy Wolfe, board president, said that parents already have a choice to opt out of any curriculum they don’t want their children learning in the district. If they object to a lesson, parents can contact building principals to set up accommodations for separate lessons.
Thompson said the district “does not include highly debated topics of gender identity, sexual orientation or family structures” in its current curriculum.
“I believe that our parents are our partners in education and some of the topics that are contained in proposed standards may be best taught at home within the context of family values,” Thompson said. “I believe our curriculum committee will take a strong look at (the standards) and adopt something more in line with our current curriculum.”