Education, Health, and Safety

Top New Jersey education official grilled on new sex education curriculum standards

The Murphy administration's top education official was questioned in Trenton on Thursday over new learning standards that will include lessons on sex education and gender identity.

It is a topic that has become very controversial among parents and politicians across New Jersey.

Acting Education Commissioner Dr. Angelica Allen-McMillian says that the proposed lesson plans that angered parents in Westfield were not from her department but from an independent organization.

“The material that has been deemed salacious is not affiliated with the Department of Education,” she said.

The controversy comes as districts across the state work to create new lesson plans to fulfill updated health and physical education standards.

“There are families who expect the public school system to be responsive to the needs of all children. And these standards are designed to ensure that we can be responsive and respectful,” Allen-McMillian said.

Some parents and Republicans like Sen. Mike Testa are still angry after seeing that the Westfield lesson plans included teaching first graders to define sexual abuse and second graders to identify parts of male and female genitalia.

“Do you believe that it would be appropriate for someone's neighbor to show their 8-year-old child that material?” Testa asked Allen-McMillian.

“When we look at particularly going to the lower grades, the K through 2 band, it's important that we use this opportunity to shatter some stereotypes or gender norming that can occur, such as all girls should take art and all boys are good at math,” Allen-McMillian replied.

But Testa was not satisfied with that answer and demanded that she answer “yes” or “no.”

“The answer is I'm an educational expert. I'm not an expert on neighbors. I'm unable to speak to that,” Allen-McMillian answered.

That's when Democratic Budget Chairman Paul Sarlo pulled the plug on the sex-ed discussion, saying he wants to focus on the Education Department's budget instead.

“I don’t want my 5-year-old, or 4-year-old or 6-year-old or 7-year-old or 8-year-old hearing about this stuff from a teacher either, OK?” Sarlo said.

Allen-McMillian said she wants parents involved in the process of devising new lesson plans.

Gov. Phil Murphy has said he's willing to consider changes to the standards if there are “reasonable” worries from parents.

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