The Vernon Township School District administration gave a presentation on September 8, attempting to address community concerns over the new health standards put out by the state that will take effect starting this school year.
The most controversial of the new set of standards is for second graders, which discusses healthy ways for friends to express feelings for and to one another, healthy ways to respond to disagreements and conflicts with others, bullying and teasing and why they’re wrong and harmful, how individuals make their own choices about how to express themselves, the range of ways people express their gender and how gender-role stereotypes might limit behavior, medically accurate names for body parts such as the genitals, the basic definition of reproduction and how parents may care for their offspring.
According to Director of Curriculum Vincent Gagliostro, the second-grade standards include one day of instruction and are met by three videos each about 2 minutes long. After the videos, the health teacher will talk to the class, have a very short discussion and then the students will move on to gym class.
Students who have opted out of the new standards will go to a different special class and then join their classmates in physical education. Opt-out letters were sent on September 9.
“Just to clarify, when students are going to the special [class], any student who did opt out of this will go with the class and just file off to the other specials course,” Gagliostro said. “So, it won’t be where we’re pulling students out of the classroom, because in those grade levels, when they go to specials, they come from the homeroom class, walk down the hall and they go into their specials rooms.”
Gagliostro also said if a student has a question the teacher cannot answer scientifically, they will be directed to ask their parents about it.
“That’s why they say, you need to go home and talk to your parents about this because they don’t want to influence the kids with their viewpoints,” Gagliostro said. “That was what they were all very adamant about.”
The district will continue with its same curriculum for grades five, eight and 11 because the existing curriculum has already covered the standards.
“All of the new standards that were updated from the state are covered with the current curriculum that we used when I went through school in fifth, eighth and 11th grade,” Gagliostro said.
He said opt-out forms will be available as they always were in the past.
Township resident Doreen Edwards asked why the “majority” who didn’t want the new standards taught, had to opt out. However, nothing presented at the meeting indicated that the majority of parents were opting out.
“Why [does] the minority [have] the say and the majority has to opt out?” she asked. “That just doesn’t make sense to me.”
She also told the district to say “no” to the state about the new standards, something that cannot be done at this stage with substantial financial losses, since the standards were already agreed upon in 2020.
Business Administrator Patricia Radcliffe-Lee said that state aid would be at risk if the district didn’t teach the mandated curriculum.
“If you’re going to keep some of our funding from us, keep it,” Edwards said.
Radcliffe-Lee said the district receives about $20 million in state aid, which averages to about $6,600 per student. She said the possibility of losing that is “alarming” to her.
“The state hasn’t been tested yet on what they will do, so I can’t address that,” she said. “All I can tell you is the amount of state aid we do receive, and if the state is telling us that it could be at risk, that’s the total amount that could be at risk.”