Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (D-Camden) chairs the Assembly Education Committee. (Photo courtesy of the 6th Legislative District)
Discussion at an Assembly education committee hearing Thursday on a bill that would require schools to post health curriculum online devolved into a shouting match over the state’s new sex ed standards, with critics warning the standards are not age-appropriate.
The heated hearing came after a similar outcry erupted at a Senate meeting last week on the bill, which is meant to increase transparency around controversial new education standards set to be implemented this fall.
Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (D-Camden), who chairs the committee, on Thursday repeatedly reminded speakers to stay on topic — transparency — but many ignored her gaveling as they blasted the new standards as “perverse.”
Lampitt cut the mic on one mother who continued to complain about the standards.
“This is un-American!” the mother said.
Victoria Jakelsky, director of New Jersey Parental Rights, held up a censored illustration of oral sex from Maia Kobabe’s autobiographical comic “Gender Queer,” a book intended for older teens and young adults that has become the most banned book in the country.
“If this passes, this is codified, and every school can justify teaching this type of pornography,” Jakelsky said, as Lampitt repeatedly tried to redirect her to limit her comments to transparency.
The bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Linda Carter (D-Union), would require schools to allow parents to review and ask questions about new health and sex education curricula before their approval by school boards. It also would require districts to post curricula to their websites at least two weeks before classes start and reiterate parents’ rights, as guaranteed in a 1980 state law, to opt their child out of sex education at school.
While advocates from groups including Planned Parenthood and the New Jersey Education Association spoke in support of the bill, a strident collective of parents and religious advocates exhorted lawmakers to postpone a vote to give school districts more time to collect public input — or dump the bill altogether.
“Parents don’t need a bill for transparency. We need a bill that protects parental rights,” said Lorraine Regan, a Montclair mother. “There’s nothing more sacred than a child’s innocence, and it should be protected.”
Shawn Hyland of the Family Policy Alliance of New Jersey told lawmakers they should go further in ensuring transparency by supporting two GOP bills that would require schools to post online all library books and materials and all curriculum generally — not just health and sex ed curriculum, as Carter’s bill requires.
One parent urged lawmakers to make health and sex ed an elective, rather than a required class. Others blasted school boards for waiting too long to create and approve new sex ed curriculum, depriving parents of ample time to review it and weigh in.
“Why is curriculum written over the summer?” one parent complained.
Lampitt reminded critics that legislators don’t establish education standards, which are set by the state Board of Education, or school curriculum, which is set by local school boards.
“If you continue to have problems with the standards, I encourage you to go to a state Board of Education meeting,” she said.
Lampitt promised to bring their concerns to the bills’ sponsors. The committee then advanced the bill by a vote split along party lines. The Senate education committee already advanced the Senate’s version of the bill, sponsored by Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Monmouth).
State education officials approved the new standards in June 2020. They weren’t especially controversial until a state senator in April posted online sample sex-ed materials produced by Amaze, a Washington, D.C.-based sex education advocacy group.
New Jersey’s top education official defended the new standards earlier this month as “medically accurate, age- and developmentally appropriate information about their bodies, and about the personal and interpersonal relationships that shape childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood.”
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