OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska education officials announced Thursday that they have largely scrapped plans for gender identity lessons in public school curriculum after an uproar from conservatives who argued that the topics weren’t appropriate for children.
The new draft of the proposed sexual standards from the Nebraska Department of Education came after agency officials faced intense criticism from parents, school boards, state lawmakers and Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts, who held town hall events to blast the proposal. Opponents flooded a meeting of the Nebraska State Board of Education, an elected board that oversees the agency.
“What we’re really trying to do is understand what Nebraskans as a whole accept as a standard and an expectation of what our students learn in school,” Matthew Blomstedt, Nebraska’s education commissioner, said Thursday at a press conference. “There’s always going to be a little bit of tensions over those types of issues, especially in this sense.”
Nebraska currently has no statewide sex education standards. Even if adopted, the proposal would just be recommendations that school districts could use or ignore.
The original draft would have suggested lessons about family structures, including same-gender families, for kindergartners, and a discussion about gender identity and stereotypes for first-graders. Sixth graders would have learned about a range of gender identities, and seventh graders would have been taught about different types of sex and how diseases are transmitted.
Most of those lessons were removed from the new draft, although seventh graders would still be taught that biological sex and gender identity may differ, raising concerns from social conservatives.
Blomstedt said school officials tried to balance the wishes of concerned parents and those of the LGBTQ community, whose members have argued that schools need to educate students about groups that feel excluded because of how they identify. He said the department also wanted to defer to local schools.
“Standards and structure will not solve all of those issues,” he said. He went on to add, “We’re going to have those challenges whether we adopted those standards or not.”
Still, advocates for the LGBTQ community blasted the decision to gut major parts of the first draft.
“Nebraska schools need to be welcome, safe spaces for all students,” said Abbi Swatsworth, executive director of OutNebraska. “This erasure does nothing to protect LGBTQ+ students. The fact that LGBTQ+ people exist should not be controversial. We will continue to advocate for medically accurate, inclusive standards for our community.”
Swatsworth said the new draft “largely omitted the reality of LGBTQ+ youth and families.”
State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, of Lincoln, said she was “completely disappointed” with the board’s decision and believes members “caved in” to political pressures. She said she understands the board’s situation but hopes state officials write another draft.