New Health Ed Proposal Eliminates Most Controversial Topics

July 29, 2021, midnight ·

Nebraska Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt
Nebraska Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt speaks Thursday (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)

The Nebraska Department of Education Thursday released a new draft of proposed health education standards, eliminating most references to gender and sexuality that had sparked controversy.

The first draft of the proposed standards, released in March, generated opposition from Gov. Pete Ricketts, state senators, and many residents who objected to its discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation, saying that should be left up to parents.

Discussing the new draft Thursday, Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt referred to those concerns.

“The standards that we have released now really remove many of those topics that were considered a little bit problematic,” Blomstedt said.

Gone are such proposed standards as teaching third graders how to respect people of all genders, teaching fourth graders to differentiate between sexual orientation and gender identity, or teaching seventh graders about different types of sexual activity and their relationship to sexually transmitted diseases. The new proposed seventh grade standards do call for students to recognize that “biological sex and gender identity may or may not differ.”

Blomstedt was asked if the proposed revisions might reduce protections for LGBTQ students. He said it’s important for all students to feel included.

“Whether it’s LGBTQ or students of different races or students with different ability levels, right, it’s important that every student’s able to do that. Perhaps that doesn’t best happen in our health standards overall or any of our standards, but it’s actually in that relationship again at that local community level,” he said.

Gov. Pete Ricketts, who has called for scrapping the originally proposed standards, said the new draft still needs improvement. Ricketts particularly objected to teaching the concept of gender identity, which he called “gender ideology.”

Meanwhile Abbi Swatsworth of OutNebraska, an LGBTQ advocacy group, said she was deeply disappointed that the new proposal has “largely omitted the reality of LGBTQ+ youth and families.”

The State Board of Education will discussed the proposed standards and take public comment at a meeting next Friday, August 6.