On July 1 Nebraska government officials took two significant steps to oppose the Human Growth and Development portion of the new Health Standards proposed by the Nebraska Department of Education (NDE).
First, Gov. Pete Ricketts launched “Protect Our Kids & Schools” town hall meetings in Grand Island and Nebraska City. Second, 30 senators united for a joint press release calling upon local school boards to reject the ideological portions of the Health Standards. The Nebraska Catholic Conference (NCC) supports both steps and thanks these officials for protecting Nebraska schoolchildren. Let’s dig into why these substantial moves are necessary.
Recall that on March 10 the NDE released their first draft of their Health Standards. These standards, which do include quality health-related content, also contain disturbing material that sexualizes children and undermines God’s intent for love, marriage, sex, sexuality and gender. Missing from the draft is respect for parents and guardians as the primary educators of their children. At NCC’s website, necatholic.org, you can find a breakdown of the troubling content that includes introduction of gender fluidity to 8-year-olds, hormone blockers to 11-year-olds, anal and oral sex to 12-year-olds, and abortion to eighth graders.
As we all know, poor process yields poor product. In this case the NDE advisory team consisted of political activists while excluding the voices of parents and educators. For instance, organizations such as Out Nebraska and Women’s Fund of Omaha were invited to advise. Furthermore, many of the problematic portions of the Health Standards were copied and pasted from the controversial National Sex Education Standards. This title is more self-promotion than fact, as the document is not recognized by national government agencies. Rather it is the collective work of national political activist groups like Advocates for Youth, Answer and the Sexual Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). Contributors to this document also include the lead educator for Planned Parenthood.
While it is troubling that the tax-funded NDE excludes certain local voices even as they rely upon activists to form content for Nebraska school classrooms, a deeper dive shows that the NDE is one of just two state education associations listed as a “legacy partner” of WISE (Working to Institutionalize Sexual Education). The other state is Oregon. I encourage Nebraskans to look up WISE and their donor base.
These standards are not mandatory for schools and will never be accepted by Catholic schools. However, the implicit pressure of the state’s pre-eminent educational authority puts public schools in a difficult position. That the NDE also holds the keys to school accreditation is an even more problematic pressure point. This is why local school boards and parents must resolve to reject these standards and honor the truth of parental rights in education. That is the point of the 30 senators calling on local school boards to step up, and why Gov. Ricketts will continue the discussion in town halls.
Catholics have an essential place in this conversation. With 400,000 Catholics in Nebraska, we know there are tens of thousands of the faithful whose children attend public schools. Secondly, as one of only three states with no school choice law, many Catholics who wish to escape public schools cannot. Most importantly, what may seem like a dark secular culture is actually an indication that we are called to bear the light of Christ.
Like thousands of concerned Nebraskans, we now anxiously await the NDE’s second draft. Until then, please stay engaged: Pay attention to State Board of Education meetings, contact your state board representative, consider asking your local board to reject the standards, and look for a town hall meeting in your area. The NCC has tremendous resources, including resolution language for school boards.
Please also pray for our schools, educators and the Nebraska Department of Education.
Jeremy Ekeler is associate director of education policy for the Nebraska Catholic Conference. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.