Controversies Over Inclusivity: The NJ Elementary Health Standards

In 2020, the New Jersey Department of Education released a new curricular mandate regarding “Comprehensive Health and Physical Education”. This curriculum expands the scope of what will be taught in New Jersey health classes from K-12, and it mainly intends to ensure that instruction expands children’s knowledge of their own identity and their own emotional and physical health. The curriculum is rather vague when it comes to what exactly it intends to do, which has caused some concern from educators and parents. 


The section known as “Social and Sexual Health” has caused amongst parents who are concerned that the curriculum exposed their children to mature topic at too young of an age. Due to all of this controversy it is important to understand what exactly the states are saying. 


As outlined in the new curriculum, there seems to be 3 main points the state wants children to learn over their educational career. This includes, an understanding of what contributes to healthy relationships with others, the importance of your own self-expression and identity, and becoming accepting of others. Finally, an understanding of physical and emotional boundaries which will later contribute to maintaining positive sexual health. 


The main source of controversy comes from the state’s attempt to educate children between the 3rd and 5th grade about the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation. The curriculum states the following under its intended goals for students by the end of 5th grade, “Differentiate between sexual orientation and gender identity”, and this is expanded for students by the end of 8th grade to include differences between, “gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation.” 


As the state describes these goals, it appears that they intend to place these foundational concepts in order to cement in high school students that all people are equal and should be treated with respect. However, many find the discussion of these topics to be too mature for children as young as 8 years old. However, it appears that a source of this concern comes from the curriculum’s wording. For examples, the state used words such as “sexual orientation” for is standards from 3rd-5th grade. This may lead some to believe that discussion of sexual relationships would be taking place in these classes. 


It is important to understand however, that this word does not explicitly imply the topic of sex, rather attraction. Therefore, it is entirely possible that this aspect of the curriculum simply mandates that students understand that who they “like” or who they “marry” is not limited to whether they were born male or female. This age group is where children begin to have crushes or inclinations towards attraction, therefore educating children about this subject would clear up any confusion for children who feel that their feelings are wrong. 


Objections to that aspect of the mandate may be calmed through the state providing more detailed expectations for what exactly they want their teacher’s to instruct. Simply allowing for these misconceptions to continue will likely contribute to heightened moral panic, which will only weaken this curricular mandate.