Parental rights in education have come to the forefront of local education battles as parents have woken up to the reality that public school officials may not have their children’s best interests at heart.
In New Jersey, several school districts have rebelled against state standards in sex education curriculum because of its explicit nature. According to a local news outlet, the state standards include the following:
- At the end of second grade, which is typically the age of seven or eight years, New Jersey students should know how people express their gender and how gender stereotypes limit behavior,
- Ten- or eleven-year-old fifth graders are expected to learn about sexual desires, masturbation, puberty, and mood swings,
- Eighth graders, or thirteen- or fourteen-year-olds, are expected to know how to define anal, oral, and vaginal sex, as well as identify safe sex, short- and long-term contraception methods.
No one had asked the questions of why underage children have to learn explicit sexual material without consultation from parents. For some parents, the old phrase, ‘It takes a village to raise a child,” should not apply to sensitive topics like sex education because it is the parent’s responsibility and not the state’s responsibility. There are also legitimate religious concerns about normalizing certain types of sexual behavior when a family’s religious beliefs are directly opposed to such behavior.
Predictably, supporters such as teachers’ unions, went into damage control mode. Union official, Lizandaa Alburg, said, “We have every reason to believe districts are helping their staff understand the standards and the age-appropriate ways to incorporate them.” She added, Curriculum is not one-size-fits-all.” Alburg is the associate director in the professional development and instructional issues division of the New Jersey Education Association, which is a New Jersey teachers union.
Of the 600 or more school districts in the Garden State, some districts have resisted the state sex education standards. The districts which have opposed the state standards are Sussex-Wantage, Montague, Jackson, and Garwood. East Hanover apparently said it will teach the sex education material on the last half day of school, while Lakewood and Middletown will have families opt into sex education rather than the opt out maneuver.
Other districts have chosen to leave controversial topics to home discussions between parents and children. For example, Millstone Township chose to have parents teach about masturbation and sexual feelings in the home, while Toms River and Marlboro chose the combination of postponing some lessons until the children are older and several topics to be discussed at home.
Supporters of the state standards point out that parents have the right to opt their children out of the sex education classes with a note explaining their objections, and the note does not have to be approved by the school principal. Yet some parents may not like the idea of having to opt out since it puts the burden on parents to withdraw their children from classes. An opt in approach could be less burdensome for parents and less forcible or coercive.
The state standards were passed in 2020, but only were recently criticized as parents took a look at education curriculum as the wave of parental activism swept the country.