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Nebraska proposing changes to health education standards

Second draft removes references, terminology relating to birth control, gender identity
Published: Jul. 29, 2021 at 6:18 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (WOWT) - The Nebraska Department of Education on Thursday released its second draft of its proposed K-12 health education standards, removing certain terminology and concepts critics said weren’t age-appropriate.

The new draft removes terms like “birth control,” “contraception,” “sexual abstinence” as well as “homophobia,” “transgender,” “asexual,” and other LGBTQ terminology. It also removes medical names of body parts, including genitalia. Some topics, like puberty, remain.

The first draft didn’t go over well with some, like Gov. Pete Ricketts, who wants sex education taken completely out of the classroom. Supporters of the previous plan say the information could save lives. But critics argue the material isn’t age-appropriate.

“Sex education and other controversial topics should be addressed at home. This responsibility should not be shouldered by teachers in schools,” the governor said in a statement Thursday afternoon.

The new plan — already under fire, both for what’s in and what’s not — does give him and other conservatives what they want. But some say that comes with a cost.

“Nebraska schools need to be welcome, safe spaces for all students. This erasure does nothing to protect LGBTQ+ students,” Abbi Swatsworth, OutNebraska executive director, said in a statement Thursday afternoon. The organization had to cancel an upcoming event at the Lincoln Children’s Museum after threats — including death threats — were made against museum and organization staff.

Ricketts said the DOE’s new plan doesn’t go far enough.

“The continued presence of gender ideology in the standards leaves the door open for this material to be expanded either before these draft standards are approved or in future years when these standards are revisited,” he said in his statement.

The state is collecting feedback on the plan through an online survey. Input can also be emailed to the Nebraska education department, or sent to Nebraska Department of Education, P.O. Box 94987, Lincoln NE 68509-4987

Response from Gov. Pete Ricketts

“While this new draft of the health education standards scraps many of the topics Nebraskans found objectionable, the standards still need improvement,” said Gov. Ricketts. “For example, this draft proposes to teach the concept of ‘gender identity.’ The continued presence of gender ideology in the standards leaves the door open for this material to be expanded either before these draft standards are approved or in future years when these standards are revisited.”

Sex education and other controversial topics should be addressed at home. This responsibility should not be shouldered by teachers in schools.”

Thank you to the thousands of Nebraskans who have given feedback so far. Your voices are being heard, and are resulting in meaningful change. I strongly urge the Nebraska Department of Education to refine these standards to remove the lingering issues. Parents, teachers, and all Nebraskans are encouraged to provide feedback on this new draft as the department continues its work.”

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts

Response from OutNebraska

“We are deeply disappointed to learn that the second draft of the proposed health standards have largely omitted the reality of LGBTQ+ youth and families. A recent study by the Trevor Project suggests that as many as 1 in 4 young people identify as non-binary.

Nebraska schools need to be welcome, safe spaces for all students. This erasure does nothing to protect LGBTQ+ students. The fact that LGBTQ+ people exist should not be controversial. We will continue to advocate for medically accurate, inclusive standards for our community.”

Abbi Swatsworth, OutNebraska executive director

Response from the Women’s Fund

“The second draft of Nebraska’s Health Education Standards significantly weakens the inclusion of medically-accurate and age-appropriate essential elements—STD and pregnancy prevention, sexual orientation, gender identity, consent and diverse family structures—resulting in a complete departure from what medical experts and decades of research clearly demonstrate is effective health education. By removing these topics, the second draft fails to align with not only best practices in the health education field, but also the State Board of Education’s own Nondiscrimination and Equitable Educational Opportunities in Schools Position Statement, which states that all students should be “known, heard and supported.”

Fear, shame and misinformation should not be leading this conversation. Education is for everyone. The State Board of Education has the opportunity right now to set the standard for health education in our state—standards that meet best practices and are inclusive of all students. The final draft of the health standards should be reflective of all young people in our state, including LGBTQ+ young people, youth of color, and their families. The final draft of the health education standards should include medically accurate, evidence-informed concepts that have been proven to prevent or reduce negative health outcomes, such as unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.

We call upon the State Board of Education to do the right thing for all children in our state, including those whose identities, mental well-being and lives could greatly benefit from complete, inclusive and equitable health education. All young people need to be seen, heard and supported.

Additionally, read more about the 39 community and youth-serving organizations from across Nebraska who are collectively calling on the Nebraska State Board of Education to include essential elements in the final version of the Nebraska Health Education Standards.”

Women's Fund of Omaha

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