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State board postpones development of health education standards

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The Nebraska State Board of Education has postponed the development of the health education standards until the conclusion of COVID-19 pandemic.

Board members voted 5 to 1 — with Deborah Neary abstaining and one absence — to shelve the standards on Friday after the teaching, learning and serving committee stated COVID-19 has already placed too much burden on school districts and staff.

Patsy Koch Johns, board vice president, said teachers and school officials are already exhausted, worrying about educating each student with the risk of spreading the virus or going remote.

“Meanwhile superintendents and school boards are asked to make decisions about these issues,” she said.

Member Deborah Neary said she is still unclear why the timing of introducing the health education standards was not given more consideration. The Nebraska Department of Education proposed the first draft in March.

“I’m sorry we let this timing happen the way it did,” Neary said.

The initial draft of the standards included sex education and topics like gender identity and gender stereotypes. The department of education mostly scrapped these items in its second draft, but it still attracted intense opposition.

The board didn’t define a timing of when the standards might come back on the table.

In a written statement, it said it will “determine the most appropriate time to address the topic of health education standards after the pandemic has concluded, as determined by appropriate national, state and local health officials.”

Board members confirmed during Friday’s meeting that any board member can request the topic be put on an agenda to resume discussion. Development could then continue with a majority vote of five board members.

Jacquelyn Morrison was one of the board members who opposed postponing the standards development. She questioned and criticized the board, saying she heard the drafts were rushed and she doubted who was really monitoring the process.

Board members and other state officials were also pressured to call off developing the standards, she said.

“We’re doing exactly what we’re being told to do when we are supposed to be a board who makes our own decisions,” Morrison said.

Several parents from Northeast Nebraska sent in written statements for Friday’s meeting — all of them were opposing the standards.

“The education of our children starts at home, with the parents,” said Rebecca Hahne of Norfolk. “We should have total control as to what is being taught to our children.”

Neary said she’s sad that if the health standards are eventually passed, they wouldn’t be mandated — which is a major concern for those in opposition.

“Parents would have always had full control of teaching their own youth instead,” she said. “No one was taking away parental control.”

Supporters wrote in to ask the board not to postpone the standards. After the standards development was postponed, some spoke during public comment to condemn the board’s decision.

“Bypassing an opportunity now for a strong and intentional rewrite of the health standards means you have also bypassed your leadership,” said Naomi Hattaway, a mother of three from Elkhorn. “You’ve chosen to value the loud voices and that dissonance over the health and safety of our children.”

The following was the final vote count for the postponement:

Patsy Koch Johns, district one, vice president — Yes

Lisa Fricke, district two — Yes

Patti Gubbels, district three — Yes

Jacquelyn Morrison, district four — No

Patricia Timm, district five — Absent

Maureen Nickels, district six, president — Yes

Robin Stevens, district seven —Yes

Deborah Neary, district eight — Abstain

This content was originally published here.

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