‘Information is not the enemy.’ Author of controversial sex ed curriculum speaks exclusively with News 12
The state Board of Education will not change new health and physical education standards that have led to a backlash from some parents.
The board voted on Wednesday to leave the new standards in place for now. Those new standards have led school boards such as Westfield to reconsider some lesson plans parents have found controversial. The head of the group that created those lesson plans says that things are not as controversial as some have made them out to be.
“Information is not the enemy. Information is powerful for young people. It is protective for young people,” says Debra Hauser, head of Advocates for Youth.
Hauser’s organization is behind that revised curriculum for health and sexual education.
“There is a purposeful, I believe, effort to confuse and distort what is really happening,” she says.
Hauser says there are reasons why the 3Rs curriculum includes concepts such as educating first graders on defining sexual abuse and teaching second graders to identify parts of male and female genitalia.
“There is research behind every single one of these lesson plans, and they’re all designed to build on each other,” Hauser says. “The research shows us that young people who have words for their private parts - that know the words - are less likely to be the victim of child sexual abuse.”
And some parents have expressed concern about teaching gender identity to first graders.
“They have fears earlier than middle school about am I normal? What's normal? Is it normal to think this way, to feel this way?’” Hauser says.
Republicans have rejected the ideas behind the 3Rs curriculum, which was devised in 2016. State Sen. Mike Testa even went as far as saying that if a neighbor talked to kids about these topics, they could be in trouble.
Westfield considered adopting the lesson plans as part of the process triggered by updated health and physical education standards adopted by the Murphy administration in 2020.
Nora Gelperin, who helped to co-author the 3Rs curriculum, says that the Murphy administration did not have any input on what was written.
“We did not actually need to change any lessons to introduce concepts earlier in New Jersey than they are in the national sex ed standards,” she says.
Hauser says that parents who are concerned should have a voice.
“Parents should absolutely be involved in making and understanding what a school is doing. We have no problem with this,” she says, adding that parents who don't want their kids to learn about these concepts can opt out of sex ed class.
Regarding the state Board of Education not changing its standards, Republican state Sen Holly Schepisi said in a statement, "School districts do not have a real choice on sex education as evidenced by the curriculum mandates imposed on them by unelected bureaucrats in Trenton."