A conference room in the Norfolk Public Schools’ administration building was standing room only Monday night as members of the public came to express opinions about the state’s proposed health education standards.
Nearly 75 people — teachers, parents, even students — filled the space to address the board before they considered sending a letter to the state asking to scrap the health education standards draft.
Instead, board members amended a motion to not adopt any health education standards, if approved by the State Board of Education. They voted 4-1 for the district to create its own health education standards.
Tammy Day, board vice president, voted against the motion.
“This is a premature action on our part. The process allows for the State Board of Education to do their work and I appreciate everyone’s openness in bringing comments here today,” Day said. “I would not be in favor of this purely based on the fact that we are in the middle of the process and I would like that process to work itself out.”
The Nebraska Department of Education recently released a second draft of the standards after a period of public review. The new proposal is mostly stripped of sex education, including teaching students about gender identity, sexual orientation and more.
The opinions of community members who spoke at Monday’s meeting were divided, much like the state board’s meeting that attracted Nebraskans from around the state on Friday.
The majority of people supporting the first draft of the health education standards asked school board members to revert back to the original version to include the LGBTQ+ community.
Sophie Ippensen, an incoming freshman at Norfolk High School who identifies as LGBTQ+, said students have the right to know about gender identity.
“The only thing we learned about in seventh grade was heteronormativity,” Ippensen said. “I was not taught about my identity … I was taught a male or female are in love and that is the way it is.”
Several parents spoke about the inclusion of LGTBQ+ students in support of their own children who identify in the community.
Tom Wiese, technical support specialist at Northeast Community College, said one of his daughters came out as gay after she graduated in Norfolk. She had to move out of the state because of the way she was treated.
“She knew at a young age, we knew early on, but the school systems here don’t teach about that,” he said. “There is a lot of bullying going on. She had an eating disorder because of the way she was looked upon.”
The majority of those opposing the draft said sex education doesn’t belong in schools, but should be up to the parents to teach at home.
One Norfolk mother of three urged that she’s not against health education, just sex education in schools. She said she already teaches her own children about sex education through her own purchased curriculum.
“I appreciate the fact someone other than myself is telling my 8-year-old to eat his vegetables. But I don’t believe the public school system is the place to learn about gender identity and sexual orientation,” she said. “I’m not comfortable with someone other than my husband and I teaching my children about these topics.”
Caleb Gardner, a 2010 graduate from NPS, said he and his wife are discussing where to send their children to school, and the implementation of the draft is one factor.
“We would love for it to be Norfolk High, but what are you going to teach?” he said. “Are you going to teach what I’m supposed to teach, or are you going to teach two plus two equals four?”
Now that the district won’t be adopting state standards, administrators will go to work on their own version.
The board already passed a policy on July 12, which stated that if members would choose not to adopt the proposed standards, the district would create its “own standards that are equal or more rigorous than those recommended by the state school board.” No announcements were made about a timeline.
“I honestly don’t know how many people have thoroughly read the second draft. I think there’s a lot of misinformation out there and a lot of (sensationalism) of the draft,” said Sandy Wolfe, board president. “I trust our State Board of Education member Patti Gubbels. I do believe that she could work on the process, but I also believe there will be many more drafts and I think that our board has a lot of important work ahead.”
This content was originally published here.