New Jersey’s primary law mandating the teaching of LGBTQ+ issues in public schools is bill A4454 (codified N.J.S.A.18A:35-4.36a), officially titled “An Act concerning diversity and inclusion.” Signed into law by Governor Phil Murphy on March 1, 2021, this law requires that all public schools in the state incorporate instruction on diversity and inclusion, including gender identity and sexual orientation, for grades kindergarten through 12.
The law is designed to promote respect and understanding of diversity, including different sexual orientations and gender identities. Unlike the New Jersey Student Learning Standards for Comprehensive Health and Physical Education, which allow parents to opt out of certain aspects of sex education, parents cannot opt out of this law.
Understanding Parent Concerns
As a parent, I wholeheartedly endorse the notion of educating our children on the importance of diversity, inclusion, and respect for differences. However, I also share the concerns of many parents regarding the implementation of this law mandating the teaching of LGBTQ+ issues and the potential impact it may have.
As a parent of elementary school-aged children, I, like many other parents in the state, have concerns about the age appropriateness of the topics mandated in bill A4454. It is well recognized that children at this age are still in the process of developing emotionally and cognitively, and may not yet have the maturity or understanding to fully grasp the complexities of sexual orientation and gender identity. By delaying this type of instruction until children are older, we can ensure that they are better equipped to engage with these sensitive topics in a responsible and informed manner.
Another concern among parents is the potential conflict between the law and their personal or religious beliefs. Some parents, including myself, feel that their rights to raise their children according to their values and beliefs are being limited by the mandatory instruction on LGBTQ+ issues. Without the option to opt-out, many parents are left with limited choices, such as homeschooling or enrolling their children in religious schools, which may not be feasible for all families due to financial constraints.
Finally, while it is widely recognized and accepted that tolerance for diversity and respect for differences are important components of a quality education, many parents feel that the focus of schools should be on the core subjects, such as reading, writing, and arithmetic, and addressing the learning loss that has resulted from the pandemic. With schools facing numerous challenges, including overcrowded classrooms, increased student misconduct and violence, and limited resources, many parents feel that schools must prioritize the fundamental skills that are necessary for students to succeed in the future. By focusing on the core subjects, schools can provide students with the foundation they need to succeed and prepare them for the challenges they will face in the future.
It’s important to note that the above objections to the law come from a diverse range of perspectives and beliefs, and the concerns expressed do not reflect the views of all parents in New Jersey. Nevertheless, these objections highlight the ongoing debate and differing opinions about the role of schools in teaching LGBTQ+ issues in elementary school.
Schools Given Discretion on Implementation
It is important to note that schools in New Jersey have some discretion in how they meet the requirements of bill A4454. The law requires that schools incorporate instruction on diversity and inclusion, including gender identity and sexual orientation, into the curriculum, but it does not specify the exact content or methods of instruction. This allows schools to develop and implement their own programs that align with their local communities, resources, and educational goals. However, while schools have some discretion in how they choose to meet the requirements of the law, they must ensure that the instruction is in compliance with the overall goals of the law.
The New Jersey Department of Education has put out sample activities and lessons. The lesson plans, units, and resources highlight and promote instruction about diversity, including economic diversity, equity, inclusion, tolerance, and belonging in connection with gender and sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, disabilities, and religious tolerance (N.J.S.A. 18A:35-4.36a). Unfortunately, my attempts to access the sample lessons on gender identity and sexual orientation were unsuccessful, even after creating an account, as the links did not seem to work. As a result, I was unable to gather any insight into the sample lessons and address my concerns regarding the law.
Ways for Parents to Participate and Shape their Children’s Education
As a concerned parent, you can be an active participant in shaping your children’s education. Bill A4454 gives schools some discretion in how they choose to meet the requirements of the law, and this presents an opportunity for parents to be involved and have their voices heard. Here are some ways that you can get involved:
Attend school board meetings: School board meetings provide a platform for parents to voice their concerns and share their opinions with school officials. You can attend these meetings and express your views on the implementation of bill A4454, as well as offer suggestions and recommendations on how the law can be implemented in a way that aligns with your values and beliefs.
Open communication with school officials: Maintaining open and honest communication with school officials is important in ensuring that your concerns are heard and addressed. You can reach out to the school principal, teachers, or school board members and express your concerns and questions about bill A4454 and how it is being implemented in your child’s school.
Participate in parent-teacher conferences: Parent-teacher conferences are a great opportunity for parents to have a direct and personal conversation with their child’s teacher about the curriculum and how it is being implemented.
Join advocacy groups: There are advocacy groups that share your concerns about bill A4454 and its impact on education. These groups can provide support, resources, and a platform for parents to voice their objections and have their concerns heard. By joining these groups, you can be part of a larger community of parents who are advocating for their beliefs and values. I recently became the Chapter Lead for No Left Turn in Education.