A group of Christian parents protested Wednesday before the state Board of Education, targeting plans to implement a state law requiring public school students to learn about the history and cultural contributions of members of the LGBT community.
Gov. Phil Murphy signed the law nearly a year ago, and the controversial new curriculum is due to be incorporated statewide in September. A dozen school districts are participating in a pilot program, and this week received sample lesson plans geared for middle and high school students.
“We don’t want our children forced to be taught things that go against what believe as Christian,” said Ed McKelvey, the mayor of Alloway Township. “The teachings of Jesus Christ are that we are to uphold what the biblical principles say about one man being married to one woman.”
The parents prayed and sang at the Trenton meeting, where the state board members heard testimony about the law and the new curriculum but took no formal action.
Opponents claim the curriculum drives a social agenda that’s at odds with their beliefs.
“Though I have no animosity and no hostility towards anybody who should practice this lifestyle, I feel that it is not fair, or right, or just for the curriculum to be taught in such a way as to label people with my religious convictions as bigots, because we are not bigots,” said Victoria Jakelsky, coordinator for the Parental Rights advocacy group.
“This is going to have a detrimental effect on kids,” said Alfonso Cirulli, a member of the Barnegat Township Committee and a former mayor. “Because what they’re doing is they’re introducing an alternate lifestyle. The way this is worded, it’s opening Pandora’s box.”
“You have this now put within the state curriculum for students to not simply learn about, but to adopt as their own,” said John Hanna of Ramsey.
Garden State Equality, the advocacy group that helped design sample lesson plans in the curriculum, denies that.
“Fear and the unknown is what sometimes drives folks’ inability to understand certain topics or discussion points,” said Ashley Chiappano, who serves as the group’s safe schools and community education manager. “We just want to make sure that everybody has the opportunity to learn some basic info about the LGBTQ community.”
Included in the sample curriculum are lessons on how the Nazis forced homosexuals in the concentration camps to wear pink triangles, on the 2003 hate crime murder of Sakia Gunn in Newark and how media bias affected coverage of the event, and about conversion therapy, anchored by “Boy Erased,” a memoir of a gay man who underwent the process, designed to turn him to a heterosexual lifestyle.
The sample curriculum also includes lessons on how different pronouns are used by gender-fluid people.
“Students and teachers may believe that ‘singular they’ is a grammatically incorrect usage of the pronoun. However, this can be avoided by discussing real life examples of the pronoun used this way and by looking at examples of singular they in the literary canon,” the sample lesson reads, under a heading of “potential misconceptions.”
The curriculum is designed to be interwoven across different subjects, from language to social studies.
“We are not expecting educators to simply add an additional lesson or an additional unit,” Chiappano said, “but to include the folks who have been in this community and not been talked about or seen.”
Twelve schools got the sample curriculum this week. They’ll pilot the lesson plans this spring, in advance of the stateside rollout in the 2020-2021 school year.
“There is a lot of thoughtful decision making that needs to occur with our faculty and administration before lessons are rolled out to students,” said John Borman, the superintendent in Rumson, one of the participants in the pilot program.
Meanwhile, protestors say they want to postpone the implementation.
James Whitt of Alloway said officials should convene “hearings throughout all the counties of New Jersey so that everybody can express their views, and not just a few.”
Approved at the end of January last year, the law also mandates the inclusion of the “political, economic, and social contributions” of disabled of persons in the curriculum for middle and high school students. It does not specify a mechanism to monitor school compliance.
New Jersey is only the second state, after California, to require an LGBT curriculum.
Correction (Jan. 10, 2020): Our Jan. 8 broadcast of this segment and the corresponding video misidentified Ed McKelvey’s residence as Galloway Township. He is actually a resident of Alloway Township. This correction is reflected in the text of this story.