She said the district hadn’t heard from the state Department of Education on its plan “because we’ve adopted the new standards and our plan is in full compliance with what is already permitted under NJ law — parents have always had the option to not consent to the health curriculum for their child.”
Middletown is one of several districts looking to balance the state’s requirement with some parents’ arguments that the curriculum exposes children to concepts better addressed in older grades, or at home. East Hanover, in a letter to parents, said lessons based on the new standards would be confined to a single school day.
Some districts have gone further. Garwood’s board of education passed a resolution in May rejecting the standards outright, Patch reported. Warren Township voted this week to ignore the updated standards as well, according to Townsquare Media.
In July, a spokesperson for the state Department of Education told NorthJersey.com any districts that reject the standards could face consequences — but the nature of any penalty might vary. She said she wouldn’t speculate on what the department might do, because the consequences would be decided on a case-by-case basis.
The Department of Education’s press office hasn’t yet answered a Wednesday morning email seeking elaboration on potential consequences, or whether it’s been in touch with uncooperative districts to warn them.
During “Ask Governor Murphy,” which airs on WNYC, WBGO and WHYY, the governor also declined to discuss possible consequences — or how the department would gauge compliance.
“We have a lot of different options, but let’s remember we have 1.4 million kids,” he told Solomon. “Let’s do everything we can.”
As described by the Townsquare Media report, the Warren Township district’s attorney said consequences could include a loss of state funding, corrective action plans, ethics charges — even state moves to strip administrators of licenses or certificates.
But as to the specifics, Murphy told Solomon: “I don’t have a crisp answer for you.”
The New Jersey School Boards Association says in guidance on the standards that they “address topics that students should know about, including personal growth and development; pregnancy and parenting; emotional health; social and sexual health; community health services and support; movement skills and concepts; physical fitness; lifelong fitness; nutrition; personal safety; health conditions, diseases and medicine; alcohol, tobacco and drugs; dependency, and substances disorder and treatment.”
It’s up to individual districts to craft curricula that implement the standards — the state doesn’t provide districts with required lesson plans.
But controversy erupted earlier this year, after Westfield schools released sample lessons the state had provided. Sketches in a folder marked “by the end of grade 2,” for instance, included drawings of naked boys and girls, including pictures of genitals.
Murphy told Solomon the standards are age-appropriate, and New Jersey law gives parents say in their children’s education.
“I just hope folks don’t use this as a political wedge to pit us against them,” he said. “And invariably, it’s the LGBTQIA+ community that is the loser when that happens.”
The governor gave one example of a lesson that might be taught in early grades.
“Girls don’t always have to wear pink,” he said. “Boys don’t always have to wear blue. Girls don’t always have to take art classes. Boys, science. Girls one sport, boys different sports.
“We want to create an awareness from the earliest years that you could grow up in America, certainly in New Jersey, but in America to be anything you want to be.”
Ask Governor Murphy is a production of WBGO in Newark in partnership with WNYC and WHYY. It’s hosted by Solomon, a senior reporter for WNYC and Gothamist.