A majority of state school board members and acting education commissioner Angelica Allen-McMillan on Wednesday defended a nearly two-year-old decision to include controversial topics, such as gender identity and abortion, in the new standards of sex education of the State.

Discussion of the 2020 review of state learning standards for comprehensive health and physical education took place at the council’s virtual monthly meeting, a month after a social media post sparked a national storm of control from elected Republicans.

The early April posting of Republican Senator Holly Schepisi, who represents a group of affluent towns in northern Bergen County, led Gov. Phil Murphy to ask the state’s Department of Education for clarification on guidelines tailored to age.

Four state school board members — Andrew Mulvihill, Jack Fornaro, Mary Beth Gazi and Mary Beth Berry — voted against the revised sex education standards in 2020 and wrote a letter to Allen-McMillan on Tuesday ahead of the board meeting . The letter called for a re-examination of the standards, the removal of “some of the more controversial and graphical languages” and delaying the implementation of the standards.

But, at Wednesday’s meeting, board chair Kathy Goldenberg said there would be no vote to postpone the implementation of the new standards, which is expected to begin in September.

“At this point, no votes will take place today,” Goldenberg said. “It’s not on the agenda. We won’t. It will not happen.

Allen-McMillan issued a memo in mid-April to local district leaders that explained the “intent and spirit” of sex education standards that were revised in June 2020, at the height of the crisis. COVID-19 pandemic. The previous standards were established in 2014. The 13-member New Jersey State Board of Education voted 9-4 to update the standards in a resolution after five months of discussions, comments public and revisions.

“I strongly support New Jersey’s 2020 Student Learning Standards for Comprehensive Physical and Health Education,” Allen-McMillan said at the meeting. “I recognize that the ministry can bolster our efforts to clarify the meaning and scope of the standards for educators.”

She also said she “totally disagrees” with the criticisms of the revised standards. One of the guidelines that critics are concerned about requires second graders to learn about “the range of ways people express their gender and how gender stereotypes can limit behavior.”

“These standards are designed to ensure that children understand that everyone has the ability to live their life in the way that is right for them, regardless of gender,” Allen-McMillan said in her memo last month. “They should also help children understand that every person deserves respect, regardless of their identity or expression.”

Local school districts must align the sex ed curriculum with the revised New Jersey Student Learning Standards for Comprehensive Physical and Health Education by September.

Here are some highlights of the learning expectations that were added in 2020 by the state school board:

  • Second graders should learn the medically accurate names of body parts, including genitals, and the range of ways people express their gender. They should also learn how gender stereotypes can limit behavior.
  • Fifth graders should learn about sexual development and the role of hormones in romantic and sexual feelings, masturbation, mood swings, and when puberty begins. Fifth graders should also learn to differentiate sexual orientation from gender identity.
  • By eighth grade, students should be able to define vaginal, oral, and anal sex and develop a plan to eliminate or reduce the risk of unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. Eighth graders should also learn about pregnancy tests, signs of pregnancy, and pregnancy options, including parenthood, abortion, and adoption.
  • By Grade 12, students should be able to analyze the influences of peers, family, media, social norms, and culture on the expression of gender, sexual orientation, and identity. Students should also learn to advocate for school and community policies and programs that promote dignity and respect for people of all genders, gender expressions, gender identities, and sexual orientations.

Catherine Carrera is Chalkbeat Newark’s office manager, covering the city’s K-12 schools with a focus on English language learners. Contact Katherine at [email protected].