Revival of health education standards more likely after Nebraska state board vote |

Emotions ran high at a meeting of the State Board of Education on Friday as the board appeared to be closing in on reviving controversial health education standards.

Board members voted 6-1 to draft a policy that, if adopted, would express the board’s intent to develop academic standards in “all areas,” including health.

The vote was the clearest indication yet that the council intends to restart standards development, but how quickly that would happen is unclear.

Last fall, the board indicated it may bring them back after reviewing “the state of the pandemic, the needs of children, schools and communities, and the preparedness of local school responders.”

Drafting the policy was one of several steps recommended by a board committee which examined the process of writing state standards after the failed attempt to write health standards last year.

The committee recommended defining the board’s role in writing the standards and hiring a consultant to review the process used by the Nebraska Department of Education and suggest improvements.

​Several board members suggested that the failure of the standards was due, in part, to process issues. A state survey found that 90% of public comments on the initial draft standards were opposed.

Board member Lisa Fricke said the action taken by the board is “so that the failed process doesn’t happen again.”

Board member Kirk Penner voted against drafting the policy, saying it would lead to a revival of the standards he opposes.

“You will write to them if this is approved,” he said.

The first draft of the standards proposed a year ago has been hailed by LGBTQ+ youth advocates as inclusive. The standards contained language recognizing diverse family structures, gender identities and sexual orientations. Most of these references were removed in a second draft, but the revised standards remained controversial and the council reported them September 3 indefinitely.

State law does not require the Department of Education to write health standards, as it does for math and language arts, for example. Without a mandate, any health standard adopted by the council would only be a recommendation for local schools.

Penner likened the proposed standards to the so-called equity ordinance that created a backlash at Lincoln, saying the standards would put children at risk and “nullify” Title IX protections for women.

The Lincoln ordinance expands discrimination protections to include sexual orientation and gender expression, but critics have argued that the ordinance, among other things, opens restrooms and locker rooms to those who identify as transgender.

“Because you’re teaching these ideas, the door is literally going to be opened for adult men and boys who identify as women to use girls’ locker rooms and bathrooms,” Penner said.

Board member Deborah Neary, who has supported the creation of health standards, said she wants young people in Nebraska “to be competitive on the national stage, have all the skills necessary to be able to work with all types of people and being able to do it in a respectful way.”

“I understand that you have very strong defense positions for your children and grandchildren,” Neary told Penner. “We also have a moral imperative to think of all the children in our state…”

Penner replied that he would protect anyone’s daughter and granddaughter.

“I try to protect women. I don’t get any support,” he said.

Board member Jacquelyn Morrison replied: “Please, please, please don’t imply that the women around this table aren’t standing up for girls and women. children.”

During public meetings on the proposed standards, she said, the council heard from “many brave women and girls”.

“I had students send me a private email explaining why they supported these standards and where we are today,” she said.


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