Second draft of health education standards removes most references to gender identity

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LINCOLN, NE — For months, through town hall meetings, letters from elected officials and comments during public meetings, some Nebraskans criticized the first draft of new sex education standards. Now, the state department of education has proposed a second draft that removes most references to gender identity. Commissioner Matt Blomstedt says the new draft is about finding a balance.

“What we’re really trying to do is understand what Nebraska as a whole accepts as a standard and an expectation of what our students learn in school," Blomstedt said. "There’s always going to be a little bit of tension over those types of issues, and especially in (sex education).”

The draft of standards covers a broad range of health topics like disease prevention and nutrition but it’s the human growth and development ideas generating the most feedback.

The first draft included discussions about gender expression, gender identity and sexual orientation as early as third grade.

The second draft scraps all references to sexual orientation and only mentions recognizing gender identity in seventh grade topics.

Blomstedt says the changes allow local districts to steer sex ed conversations.

“Perhaps that doesn’t best happen in our health standards overall, or any of our standards, but it’s actually in that relationship at that local community level to ensure that we can do that," Blomstedt said. "We want to make sure that schools are finding productive ways to do that.”

Reaction to the changes is mixed. OutNebraska says erasing the proposed standards does nothing to protect LGBTQ+ students.

The Nebraska Catholic Conference and Nebraska Family Alliance praised the draft for showing deference to local control.

Gov. Pete Ricketts was more critical, saying sex education and other controversial topics should be addressed at home.

Blomstedt says the discussion shouldn’t be about how politics influence the standards.

“It’s that the politics reflect the conversations that we have to have to serve our students best," Blomstedt said. "Finding that balance is really going to be more helpful to solving that and addressing those types of issues for our school and for our communities and for our kids.”

The new draft will be included on the agenda for the next state board of education meeting. Blomstedt says there is still a chance for more public comment and a third draft. If the process goes smooth, he says standards could be adopted in October or November.