There has been a lot of discussion, especially here locally, regarding the document published by the Nebraska Department of Education in March 2021: Nebraska Health Education Standards Draft 1. These standards fall outside of what is required by law, but not outside of the bounds of what the department is able to publish.
Fine arts, physical education, world languages, and career and technical education are just a few content areas for which the department has already published standards.
What is different about these standards is one key thing — these standards have the potential to save real lives.
First off, these standards educate students on the facts regarding several aspects of reproductive health. They call for teaching students about anatomy, safe sex methods, and methods of contraception that have been proven safe. They do not pass judgment on what is right, on what is wrong, but rather introduce students to the facts about reproduction. This type of education has been proven to reduce teen pregnancy, a problem that has affected communities across the world for all time, Grand Island included.
One of the most controversial standards is the section pertaining to education about LGBT people. The standards call for educating students on the existence of differing sexualities and gender identities. The current reality that LGBT students face is simple: more than 90% of LGBT teenagers are harassed or assaulted, compared to the benchmark of 62% of non-LGBT students, and they are three times as likely to not feel safe at school (22% to 7%), according to The Trevor Project. These students attempt suicide at a rate one and one-half to three times higher than heterosexual students according to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center.
LGBT students, at present, are not acknowledged in GIPS or Northwest Public Schools’ health curriculum. In 2020, state social studies standards changed to include potential education on the Stonewall riots, but did not require it. Opponents to the standards argue that this sort of education should take place at home. There is a slight issue with that, however. It is not happening at home.
I have witnessed firsthand the harassment and hatred that LGBT youths face every day in our schools. Slurs are hurled, horns are honked, engines are revved. The inclusion of simple, science-based education about LGBT people has made environments safer for students, time and time again — the annual GLSEN survey reports an increase in safety when education is updated to include inclusive LGBT curricula in an area, and subsequently, suicide rates fall.
By excluding these youths from our health education, we are instilling values — those values being exclusion, hatred, apathy and disgust. Is that what we really want for our children — to teach them that anything that goes against one’s personal values should not be taught, should be kept quiet and should be excluded?
These standards are common sense and make no judgments. They deliver science-based facts to our children at the right time, and ensure that every student graduates with the knowledge that they need to enter into adulthood prepared. Read them for yourself, at education.ne.gov, and let your local and state school board know what you think.
Kendall Bartling of Grand Island is a freshman at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in political science. He served as the student representative on the Grand Island Public Schools Board of Education for the 2020-21 school year.