On April 13, citing a handful of lesson plans that do not accurately reflect the spirit of New Jersey’s Comprehensive Health and Physical Learning Standards, Gov. Phil Murphy directed the New Jersey Department of Education to review the standards and provide further clarification on what age-appropriate guidelines look like for students.

In a news release, the governor stated that New Jersey’s public education system is the best in the nation because parents, students, educators, administrators and coaches are all heavily invested in the academic and social success of children. “To be clear, we value and respect these voices and the communities they represent in any decision made affecting our students,” he said.

The governor noted that the learning standards in question were crafted over five months in collaboration with a variety of stakeholders, including parents, experts and teachers to ensure that 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,” he said. “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.”

Some politicians have “intentionally misrepresented” the learning standards, Murphy said. “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 that end, the governor has directed the NJDOE to review the standards “and provide further clarification on what age-appropriate guidelines look like for our students.”

NJDOE Seeks to Clarify Standards

A day after the governor issued his statement, the NJDOE issued a special broadcast seeking to clarify the New Jersey Learning Standards for Comprehensive Health and Physical Education.

In issuing its advisory, the department cited “numerous misrepresentations of the content, meaning, and role of the 2020 New Jersey Student Learning Standards for Comprehensive Health and Physical Education in guiding classroom instruction, particularly certain elements of Standard 2.1: Personal and Mental Health.”

The standards were designed “to address the needs of each student to gain knowledge and skills in caring for themselves, interacting effectively, respectfully and safely with others, and analyzing the impact of health choices,” according to the NJDOE. “The standards were adopted by the State Board of Education after a five-month period of discussion, public comment, and revision. Prior to introduction to the State Board, the standards were developed in consultation with stakeholders and experts in the field.”

The NJDOE noted that its broadcast “reiterates the intent and spirit” of the learning standards as well as the discretion of local educational agencies to select and adopt curricula aligned to the standards without the need for review or approval by the NJDOE. It also cited the importance of parental input, the importance of LEAs’ consultation with educators, families, and other members of the school community in selecting and adopting curricula – as well as the ability of parents to opt out of instructional activities aligned with these standards.

The NJDOE stated that it does not review, approve, or actively endorse instructional materials such as sample lesson plans, textbooks, software, or videos in any content area. “Generally speaking, the state does not mandate curriculum,” according to the broadcast. “Material adoption is a local LEA decision, based on the local curriculum development and review process.”

The broadcast continued, “All locally adopted instructional materials should be aligned to the district curriculum and the NJSLS and be current, medically accurate, developmentally- and age-appropriate, and developed and selected through meaningful and ongoing consultation with the school community, including parents. To be clear, any report indicating that the NJDOE has approved a specific vendor or instructional material (e.g., lesson plan) related to the implementation of NJSLS-CHPE or any other content area is not accurate.”

Read the full broadcast from the NJDOE seeking to clarify the standards. District curriculum is expected to reflect the standards beginning in September 2022.

Gopal to Introduce ‘Transparency in Health and Sex Education Curriculum’ Bill

Sen. Vin Gopal, the chairman of the Senate Education Committee who represents District 11, has taken notice of the confusion surrounding the New Jersey’s Comprehensive Health and Physical Learning Standards.

In a news release, he announced plans to introduce legislation that would ensure parents and guardians are fully informed of the school curriculum on health and sex education, provided the opportunity to review educational material on the subject, allowed to meet with local school officials to get questions answered, and given the option to opt out if they would rather teach health and sex education to their children instead of having the school district do it.“I want to thank the governor’s office and the Department of Education for responding to the public and the Legislature and putting out further clarity this past weekend,” Gopal said.

He continued, “Because we have seen professional political operatives and politicians purposely spread misinformation and false claims that cause concern for well-meaning parents, it is important to put the ‘Transparency in Health & Sex Education Curriculum Act’ into law. Parents should be empowered with all the information they need to make decisions for their children.”The bill would:

  • Mandate that all school curriculums be uploaded to their Board of Education website 14 days prior to start of the school year.
  • Require school districts to provide a public opportunity for parents or guardians with children in that specific district to ask questions and review curriculum before a health and sex education curriculum is implemented.
  • Require school districts to provide individual opportunities for parents or guardians from the specific district to meet with school officials to ask questions/review the contents of the curriculum. This opportunity should be made available via a link on the Board of Education’s website and should include clear instructions on how a parent or guardian can opt out of sex education curriculum.

The bill will reinforce the difference between standards and curriculums, according to Gopal. Standards are a blueprint that describe expectations of what students should know and be able to do. They guide the development of curriculum by each individual district. Curriculum is developed by teachers and school district leadership. It is proposed to the local board of education, which must, by law, vote to adopt it. Individual districts have control over their curriculum and specific lesson plans, which will be reaffirmed in the bill.“This bill will bring full transparency to our health and sex education curriculums in our 600-plus school districts by stopping the politically-coordinated misinformation campaign and further empowering parents by ensuring that their children are offered the opportunity for a comprehensive education, which is what an overwhelming majority of parents want and are entitled to as part of a quality education,” said Gopal, who will post the bill for the first Senate Education Committee after the budget break May 9th.

The New Jersey School Boards Association has reached out to members to provide clarity on the standards and to reiterate that parents can, in fact, opt out of family life curriculum and sex education.