Limits to Proposed Health Education – Unicameral Update

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The Education Committee heard evidence Feb. 15 about a bill to prevent the State Board of Education from creating health education standards for Nebraska public schools.

Senator Joni Albrecht

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The senator. Joni Albrecht

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Senator Joni Albrecht

LB768, introduced by Senator Joni Albrecht of Thurston, would prohibit the board from developing, approving, distributing, adopting or promulgating academic content standards for subjects other than reading, writing, math , science and social studies.

The bill would also limit school health education programs to instructions on drug use, abuse and misuse. Under current law, programs must include this instruction but may be comprehensive. The education commissioner is responsible for the preparation and distribution of teaching aids and materials for health education courses.

Albrecht said LB768 would be a “long overdue check” on the State Board of Education and the State Department of Education. She said those entities broke public trust last year after they proposed health education standards containing controversial material that an “overwhelming” number of Nebraskans oppose.

“The State Board of Education and the Department of Education should focus on improving the standards they have been authorized to set by this legislative body,” Albrecht said. “Everything else should be turned around and decided by the local schools themselves.”

Jill Greenquist of Omaha testified in support of the bill. She said she wanted to protect her children from “militant individuals and entities” who believe education should go beyond core subjects.

Greenquist said it was clear to her that the department cannot be trusted to create “common sense” health education standards.

Mary Hamilton, a resident of District 25, also testified in support, saying parents and teachers felt left out as the board drafted the proposed standards. She said comprehensive sex education should not be part of those standards.

“I want to see the curriculum and the programs that public schools use align with the values ​​of the majority of parents in Nebraska,” Hamilton said.

Doug Kagan of Omaha testified on behalf of LB768 on behalf of Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom. Limiting the board’s power to write academic content standards is necessary because a majority of board members voted earlier this month against a proposal to end work on the draft standards, which “violate traditional societal norms,” ​​he said.

If LB768 is successful, Kagan said, local school boards could still adopt their own health education curriculum.

Jesse Barondeau, a specialist in adolescent medicine, testified against the bill. He said all major medical organizations that focus on caring for young people and adolescents support medically accurate health education, which can improve health outcomes and save taxes and healthcare costs.

“It becomes frustrating when misunderstandings and inaccurate political rhetoric drown out the good intentions of such health education, Barondeau said.

Omaha’s Denise Powell also testified in opposition. She said the health education her daughter, who is in grade 6, received at school has helped them have more open and age-appropriate conversations about puberty, sex and sexuality.

OutNebraska’s Abbi Swatsworth was also in opposition. She said all respondents to a recent survey of Nebraska youth indicated they needed more information about sexual orientation, gender identity, consent and healthy relationships.

Swatsworth said the survey also revealed that only one in three young LGBTQ people in Nebraska feel affirmed in their identity at home. Comprehensive health education, which would include education about sexual orientation and gender identity, could prevent suicide among these young people by helping them feel seen and respected, she said.

Jill Brown, a developmental psychologist and professor at Creighton University, also testified against the bill. She said comprehensive sex education for public school students is needed because gaps in parental knowledge are “huge and real”.

“[Health education] must be comprehensive to be effective,” Brown said.

The committee took no immediate action on LB768.

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