It was a marathon public comment period for the Nebraska State Board of education Friday — lasting for over four hours with over 80 people weighing in.
The vast majority were focused on the health and sex education standards proposed last month.
Many don’t like them.
“Traditional marriage is disregarded despite its innate and essential value in procreation,” said Jeremy Ekeler, associate director of Education Policy at the Nebraska Catholic Conference.
According to the comprehensive 60-page first draft, students in kindergarten would be taught about same-sex couples.
In first grade, gender identity would be defined to students, in third grade, students would learn about sexual orientation and in the next year, they’d define the difference between gender identity and gender assigned at birth.
“Life is confusing enough for these kids, without having to make them doubt something as so basic, as their gender, their sex,” said Eric Jones, a parent from Kearney.
Many in opposition believe parents should be the only ones teaching kids about these controversial topics.
“As children progress through the grades, teachers change, only parents are the consistent influence on our children, and only they should be allowed to teach moral values,” said Kent Whitaker, who’s opposed to the sex-ed standards.
Kelly Larsen, who’s a pastor in Kearney, said they would put teachers that disagree in a tough spot.
“The Christian teachers will not be able to teach this material in good conscience and likely will face termination and other pressure for refusing to teach these moral, belief-based convictions that are contrary to their own,” said Larson.
But plenty spoke in support.
“I wish I had been taught these standards in school,” said Jamie Gould.
Jamie Gould said that simply learning about gender identity and sexual orientation does nothing but help students, even at a young age.
“Sexual orientation and gender are not a choice and they cannot be changed by learning that somebody else’s is different,” said Gould.
Others said parents can’t always be the ones teaching their kids, and they should get the information in a safe place like a school.
“It’s a bold assumption to make that all children have a home, but even more bold to say that that home is a safe place for these discussions. Unfortunately for me, my home was not that safe space,” said Jenna Lopez, who’s in favor of the standards.
Students would also learn about identifying genitals by second grade, something Christon MacTaggart from the Women’s Fund of Omaha, believes will help stop sexual abuse.
“Learning the correct names for body parts and their function is a key to protective factor, in their ability and mine, to recognize and report child abuse,” said MacTaggart.
The State Board of Education won’t finalize the policies until the fall, even then, school districts can choose to opt out of them.