Reposted from Ocean City Sentinel article by Editor/Publisher David Nahan. Click Here For Original Post at Ocean City school board votes narrowly to approve new health standards ‣ Ocean City Sentinel (ocnjsentinel.com) Above photo by Robin Shaffer.
Ocean City school board votes narrowly to approve new ‘health’ standards
Audience members, kept waiting over two hours, asked the board to vote no because the curriculum ‘over-sexualizes’ children
OCEAN CITY – After making the audience wait through more than two hours after twice going into executive session – a process that winnowed the large crowd gathered in the high school library – and then listening to impassioned speaker after speaker ask them to reject the new Comprehensive Health and Physical Education standards, the Ocean City Board of Education narrowly voted to approve them.
The vote was 6-5 in favor.
The speakers who addressed the new standards during public comment wanted the board to reject the curriculum outright, not to accept it and allow parents to opt out of sections they find objectionable. They consider it a dangerous curriculum that over-sexualizes young people,.
The meeting began with Dr. Lauren Gunther, the curriculum and student services director for the Ocean City School District, explaining how they are continuing to seek parent engagement in the process. She said many aspects opponents find most objectionable would not be included in what would be taught locally because districts have the right to tailor the program to their communities. (See related story.)
However, every person who got up to speak on the topic at the podium during public comment blasted the curriculum, saying allowing parents to opt out wasn’t good enough.
“Why rush to adopt these standards?” parent Catherine Panico asked, saying there is “really inappropriate” content and language. “I feel like this is opening Pandora’s Box and you will not be able to put that genie back in the bottle.”
She said opt-out won’t work because that doesn’t prevent children who aren’t in the classroom from hearing the material from classmates. A bigger issue is within the class itself. “You think you will be able to control the language the teacher uses, but I can’t imagine that questions won’t arise and kids won’t drill down on certain topics that they want more information on. I don’t see it as a realistic option,” she said.
“You have a responsibility to our kids. Regardless of your own personal family values, I don’t feel that your decision should supersede the will of parents and families in the community,” she said. “It’s not too much to ask for us to work together in the best interest of our kids.”
Ocean City resident Janice Weber, a former high school teacher and a principal, said there are many areas of the curriculum that are excellent, but the objection arises with “over-sexualization” by exposing students, often without parental knowledge, to “terms and ideologies that are counter to family-held values.”
She wondered if the district would put other terms in place when the curriculum talked about certain areas “because if you’re not, then this is a dangerous curriculum as it stands.”
The focus of the state on “gender, sexual orientation and a detailed emphasis on age-inappropriate material is an affront to a child’s innocence and an egregious assault on parental values,” Weber said. “The curriculum as written is intrusive and undermining.”
“The state of New Jersey is going into places it has no right to be,” she said. “Indoctrinating students this aggressively to an overly politically correct curriculum should be viewed with caution.”
Marie Hayes of Ocean City said she was speaking as as a resident of Ocean City, a grandmother and mother; as a retired captain of detectives of the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office “who spent the majority of my career investigating child abuse cases”; and as one of five members of the Cape May County Board of Commissioners.
She said the Board of Commissioners passed a resolution in April opposing the revised standards of sex education because of the lack of transparency in specific lesson plans and materials being taught to children, and the manner in how it is being introduced as well as certain content being age-inappropriate. She said a copy of the resolution was sent to each school board in the county.
Hayes said when the NJCAP (New Jersey Child Assault Protection) program was being devised, it was presented to all school boards to get input and hear concerns. That isn’t the case with the new standards that were passed in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic when parents had their hands full with other matters.
She referred to an independent hearing held by the New Jersey Senate Republicans – also referenced by Panico – in which First District Sen. Michael Testa spoke.
Testa made the point if someone “were to show pictures of some of the suggested material that is in this curriculum, that person would be arrested,” she said. “I can tell you that is the truth because I arrested them.”
Hayes said another expert testified the concepts proposed to be taught to younger children “are beyond a child’s cognitive capacity and will definitely create psychological damage. Children will feel the pressure to identify if they are straight, gay or transexual, not the focus on being a human being.”
Parent Robin Shaffer said board members have an important role “to keep our kids safe and make sure they are not exposed to toxic situations on the basketball court or in the PE (physical education) or health classroom.” He noted there was an “incredible” amount of educational and life experience among members of the audience. “I wish you guys would pay attention to us.”
He said the issue was writ large, “about our society and the rights and responsibilities of parents versus those of the State, capital S.”
“Teaching about sex and gender ideology to 5- and 10-year-olds is perverted and tantamount to child abuse,” Shaffer said. “Schools need to stay in their lanes.… Offering parents the right to opt out of inappropriate curriculum is just not the answer.
“Sadly in response to big government interference in public education, more and more parents are choosing to opt out altogether and send their children to private schools or home school their kids,” Shaffer said. “We all lose out when that happens.”
“Even if only one child is harmed by these new standards, then it is one too many. It means we are failing as a society to protect our future generations,” he said.
Parent Liz Nicoletti said she pulled her children out of Christian school where they were getting a biblical education, learning about God and where man and woman came from. She told the board before “if you can’t define what a woman is, then this is not a school. Then everyone is saying you’re indoctrinating our children with a sexual agenda.”
“I hope to God you’re going to vote this out and you’re going to reject it,” Nicoletti told the board. “And not do the opt out because” children are going to learn about things such as oral and anal sex from other students.
“Do you know how hard I have worked as a mom to protect my children’s innocence? I love Ocean City. They go on the rides, they jump in the bay, hang at the skate park. They are all over this town,” she said, adding her children are having “wholesome fun. That’s what kids are supposed to be doing.”
Nicoletti has tried to teach them about sex when she believes it is appropriate. “This is a radical sex education curriculum,” she said.
Property owner Richard Burns, from Greenville, Del., said he has owned a home in Ocean City for 50 years. He said he just got a tax bill for $28,200. “I have no squawk about the schools, but right now, I’m telling you, it’s terrible what you’re doing,” he said.
He urged the board to reject the curriculum even if it means losing some state funding.
“You’re all good Christians,” he told the board. “You have a moral obligation here. Do the right thing.”
Resident Linda Gronert said she was a public school teacher for 33 years in Pennsylvania before retiring and moving to Ocean City 16 years ago. “I have observed how the words of a teacher, both positive and negative, can impact and influence their students,” she said. For some students, teachers are their strongest adult role models, but students can’t always discern what is best for themselves or understand the consequences of their actions.
“To introduce the standards with this sexual content to children who do not have the wisdom or understanding to digest its concepts and implications could be harmful. My fear is that the minds of kids would be clouded with doubt, confusion and misconceptions,” Gronert said.
“I hope the school board would consider not adding to the many things that are out there, stripping away the innocence of our youth,” she said. “They’re already trying to grow in a crazy, complicated world.”
Ocean City resident Albert Weber asked the board “to totally reject” the new standards. “You have the right to reject it, you’ll lose your four points, but I’m sure Ocean City will be strong enough in other areas they won’t get any negative report card from the state of New Jersey.”
He said a major reason to reject the curriculum is because it is coming from sexed.org, behind which, he asserted, is Planned Parenthood, the New Jersey Abortion Access Fund, the New Jersey Family Planning Board.
“That’s who came up with this curriculum,” he said. “How can you expect this curriculum to be balanced?”
Board votes, outrage follows
After going through other items, the board voted on a long consent agenda, part of which was included the new curriculum. Although all the members presented voted for the overall agenda, five said no to new Comprehensive Health and Physical Education Standards.
Board President Patrick Kane, Vice President Joseph Clark and members Chris Halliday, Charles Roche, William Sooy and newly sworn-in member Ryan Leonard voted to adopt the standards. Cecelia Gallelli-Keyes, Disston Vanderslice, Gregory Whelan, Jacqueline McAlister and Will Holmes voted no. Fran Newman was absent.
Opening up to public comment after the vote, multiple speakers got back up to say they were outraged by the decision.
“You listened to all the stakeholders out here and you still went through” with the standards, Shaffer said. “It’s pathetic and unbelievable. We waited for two hours while you sat in executive session, disrespecting all of these people in the room,” Shaffer said. “This is how you’re representing us?”
“How could you? What a slap in the face of the kids of this community, a slap in the face of the stakeholders. It’s unbelievable,” he said. If the board didn’t go into executive session, people who wanted to speak but couldn’t wait might have been able to persuade a member or two “to do the right thing” and change his or her mind.
Nicolettii thanked the board members who voted against the standards, but called out the other members by name.
“I understand this is public school, but you just voted to give authority to these teachers who don’t have experience with some of this sexual content and you’re going to let them teach my” children, she said, noting the word “dildo” is in his 10th grade book. “What do they need to know that for? They’re 10th graders.”
Nicoletti said she could pull her students out of school like some of her friends and that half of the teachers don’t want to teach the curriculum.
“This hurts, guys,” she said. “This is all about their feelings, not about facts, not about science, not about biology. My feelings are hurt tonight because I’ve been to every meeting here and not one of you has come up to me … and said I hear what you’re saying, I get it, I understand.”
“There is no reason this should be pushed in our school. This is our nice little town that is safe,” Nicoletti said. “This (curriculum) is dangerous and that boardwalk is not going to be safe anymore. And the streets aren’t going to be safe any more because you are over-sexualizing your students here.”
Hayes said she was “absolutely devastated” by the vote. Her husband taught in the school and all of their kids went to the school. “I can tell you without a doubt that if my kids were in this school now they would be taken out,” she said.
Hayes said the board sent a message that the students have a price tag on them, alluding to state aid.
“This woman over here said it perfectly,” Hayes said, gesturing to another speaker. “You are sexualizing children with this curriculum. I did child abuse for 29 years. I know what I’m talking about. This curriculum is wrong. You have made a big mistake.”
“I am glad my kids are out of school,” she said, noting her grandchildren attend a Christian school.
Vanderslice and Halliday tried to speak afterwards during board comments.
Vanderslice, who voted against the curriculum, said it was “a tough vote tonight” and that he believed they would be able to make the best of the situation.
Halliday, who voted in favor, said there was still dialogue to be had and, as Dr. Gunther explained earlier, that not all the language in the state standards had to be taught in the district. He urged parents to come to the Parent Academy meetings to learn more.
However, they were mostly drowned out by audience members talking over them.