Critics of Nebraska education standards see major flaws on sex, gender

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There are too many ideological and political assumptions in the Nebraska Department of Education’s proposed curriculum standards on sex education, marriage, family and gender that undermine parents and religious and ethical standards, critics have said.


“The draft health standards are a deeply flawed, ideologically driven document,” Jeremy Ekeler, Associate Director of Education Policy at the Nebraska Catholic Conference, told CNA April 6. “Should such standards be adopted by schools, children will be placed in peril, many educators will find their professional judgment and conscience under attack, and the culture will move toward a further normalization of child sexualization.”


“Countless parents, teachers, and Nebraskans across the state have expressed concerns over the Human Growth and Development portion of the standards in all grade levels. Twenty-eight State Senators have issued an open letter expressing their reservations with the material and with developing statewide health education standards,” he added.


The Nebraska Catholic Conference website summarizes its concerns and excerpts some of the Nebraska Health Education Standards. The standards are meant to guide all Nebraska schools, public and non-public. They are not mandatory for any school but heavily influence what is taught in the classroom.


Despite quality material in the standards, the Catholic conference said on its website, there is also “an abundance of concerning issues regarding marriage, family, and human sexuality.”


“We are deeply concerned with proposed standards that promote a false understanding of God’s design for marriage and human sexuality,” it added. 


According to the Catholic conference’s summary of sex education standards, in Kindergarten and first grade, students will discuss genitalia. Students in seventh grade will define various sexual acts and their relationship to STD/HIV transmission. Eighth graders will discuss contraception, pregnancy testing, “sexual consent and agency,” and various “isms,” including “racism, sexism… and heterosexism.”


Critics of “heterosexism” typically critique society for treating opposite-sex couples and married families as normative while allegedly marginalizing other people, other forms of sexual behavior and other family structures.


According to the Nebraska Catholic Conference, the curriculum includes kindergarten-level discussion of different family structures, including single parent, blended, intergenerational, cohabiting, adoptive, foster, same-sex, and interracial.

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“Note that traditional marriage between a man and a woman is not mentioned,” the Catholic conference said.


Third graders under the new standards will be taught to define “sexual orientation” and how to “identify trusted adults whom students can ask questions about gender identity and sexual orientation.”


The gender identity and sexual orientation aspects of the curriculum advance concepts favored by LGBT activists. First graders are to define “gender, gender identity, and gender-role stereotypes.” Fourth graders should “distinguish between sex assigned at birth and gender identity and explain how they may or may not differ.” Fifth graders should “explain that gender expression and gender identity exist along a spectrum.” Sixth graders should “define and explain differences between cisgender, transgender, gender non-binary, gender expansive, and gender identity” as well as “define sexual identity and explain a range of identities related to sexual orientation (e.g. heterosexual, bisexual, lesbian, gay, queer, two-spirit, asexual, pansexual).”


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The Catholic conference objected that the curriculum standards omit “the role of the parent as the primary educator of their child” and healthy internet and social media behaviors. The curriculum also omits “how the scourge of pornography leads to sexual objectification, the creation of shame/depression, and sexual dysfunction.”


Twenty-eight Nebraska state senators have asked Nebraska Department of Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt and the State Board of Education to remove some content, including all sex education content.


“While there are beneficial health-related items in the recently released Health Education

Standards, we are deeply disturbed about material related to sex education, marriage and

family, and gender,” said the lawmakers in a March 30 letter.


The objecting senators said some curriculum standards violate “the right of parents as the first educators of their child,” especially in matters of sexuality. Their letter said previous legislative efforts to mandate comprehensive sex education have been “repeatedly rejected,” making the new sex ed standards a “back door attempt to propose what the people of this state have rejected.”


The letter noted that the standards are a first draft and that revision will take time.


“However, we find the content and tenor of this first draft so problematic that it demands immediate attention,” said the senators.


Eckeler, from the Catholic conference welcomed the letter, saying the Catholic conference will work with the senators and the State Board of Education to address the parts of the standards that are “problematic and concerning.”


Republican Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts on March 11 called on education authorities “to scrap their proposed sex education topics.”


“The new standards from the department would not only teach young children age-inappropriate content starting in kindergarten, but also inject non-scientific, political ideas into curriculum standards,” he said. “The sex education standards represent a significant shift in approach to health education, and many of the new themes are sensitive topics that should be addressed by parents at home and not by schools.”


The governor said the draft standards were developed “with the help of political activists, and without the input of key mainstream organizations.”


The Nebraska State Board of Education heard public comment on Friday, April 2.


“Life is confusing enough for these kids, without having to make them doubt something as so basic, as their gender, their sex,” Eric Jones, a parent from Kearney said.


Kelly Larsen, a pastor from Kearney, voiced concerns that the standards would create pressure on teachers who disagree with them.


“The Christian teachers will not be able to teach this material in good conscience and likely will face termination and other pressure for refusing to teach these moral, belief-based convictions that are contrary to their own,” Larsen said, according to the Omaha CBS affiliate 3 News Now.


Jenna Lopez, a backer of the standards, said some children lack support at home.


“It’s a bold assumption to make that all children have a home, but even more bold to say that that home is a safe place for these discussions. Unfortunately for me, my home was not that safe space,” she said.


Patsy Koch Johns, a member of the State Board of Education, emphasized the importance of harm reduction and said the standards could help reduce harm. 


Discussion of genitalia would help young children recognize and report sexual abuse, Christon MacTaggart from the Women’s Fund of Omaha said.


A 12-year-old student who identifies as lesbian said the proposed standards would help make her feel safer. She said she suffered harassment in elementary and middle school because of her sexual identity, the Omaha World-Herald reports.


Ekeler, from the Catholic conference, told CNA that foundations are important. “We need to build a culture that promotes the dignity and respect of every human life,” he said. The Nebraska standards, however, “do not aid in that goal and only lead to a further sexualization and objectification of children.”


For students with a poor home life, Ekeler said that engaging parents and families is a better way to address their education on sensitive matters rather than “handing the duty to the school.”


“We can’t assume that public schools are equipped to handle these sensitive topics when they already face issues with achievement gaps for low-income and minority students,” he said.


“We want all kids to feel safe in school, but this goal can be achieved by creating cultures of love and respect for all people rather than fueling an ideology that reduces sex to an activity, gender to a changeable fix, and excludes the family and their values,” he continued. “We should focus on the culture and environment of our schools rather than present even more divisive topics like ‘heterosexism’.”


Ekeler also cautioned against many contemporary ideas being taught about gender identity.


“Between 80-95% of children with gender dysphoria come to identify with their biological sex by late adolescence,” he said. “Time, love, and therapy are the proper response to taking care of these children, not hormone blockers and inconclusive claims of science.”


While some discussion can help children recognize and report sexual abuse, Ekeler said the proposed Nebraska standards were “developed without regard for parent engagement and consideration for what is age-appropriate.”


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