Legislation Allows for Input with School Officials, Reaffirms Opt-Out Provision
Trenton – Legislation aimed at improving clarity, bringing greater transparency and making sure that parents and guardians are informed and given ample opportunity to comment on any curriculum necessary to implement the New Jersey Student Learning Standards in Comprehensive Health and Physical Education was cleared today by the Senate Education Committee.
The bill, sponsored by Senator Vin Gopal, Chair of the Education Committee, and Senator Joe Lagana, would require local boards of education to offer an annual opportunity for parents and guardians of students, as well as any resident, to ask questions, and provide comments on the health, family life education, and sex education curriculum proposed for the succeeding school year.
“Parents and guardians must be empowered with all the information they need to make critical decisions about the education of their children,” said Senator Gopal (D-Monmouth). “Unfortunately, there have been numerous misrepresentations made about what is or isn’t being proposed for classroom discussions on family health and sex education. This legislation will help to clear up misunderstandings, and give parents specific instructions on how and where to pose questions or voice concerns.”
The bill, S-2481, would require local boards of education to post the board approved district curriculum for health, family life education, and sex education on the district’s website prior to the start of instruction each year. The bill would also require districts to post in a prominent location on the district’s website information regarding how a parent or guardian may provide public comment on the health, family life education, and sex education curriculum. The school district website would also be required to list information regarding the parent or guardian’s right to decline their child’s participation in any part of that curriculum.
“We must eliminate confusion, and make sure any concerned parent knows exactly how to access curriculum information, how to choose to ‘opt-out,’ of certain teachings if they so desire, and how and where to pose questions concerning the given course of study,” said Senator Lagana (D-Bergen/Passaic). “Greater transparency and understanding will help ensure quality education around health and family life.”
The bill would also codify the current requirement in the administrative code that local boards of education ensure schools within the district design and deliver curriculum and instruction in such a way that all students are able to demonstrate the knowledge and skills specified by the New Jersey Student Learning Standards. It would clarify that districts are not required to use any specific support material provided by the department.
“The best way to bring clarity is to ensure that parents are fully informed in advance, are offered the opportunity to get engaged with school officials, to have their questions answered satisfactorily, and be given clear instructions on how to opt their children out,” added Senator Gopal.
Senator Gopal said that it is important that parents are informed about the distinction between “standards” and “curriculum” in health education. Standards are a blueprint that describe expectations of what students should know. They can be used to guide the development of curriculum by each individual district but, according to law, the specific curriculum and lesson plans are controlled at the local level.
The bill was passed out of committee by a vote of 3-2.