The grassroots groups No Left Turn in Education and Garden State Families held a rally at the John Adler Memorial Park Pavillion on Aug.18 to advocate for parents’ rights regarding the state’s updated health and sex-ed curriculum.
The space was decorated with signs that read “Protect children’s innocence,” “Diversity means racism” and “Parents do not co-parent with government.” One sign encouraged the banning of the state’s sex ed curriculum all together.
“The idea is to return classical education into the K-12 system and remove any type of indoctrination in it,” said Pnina Mintz, rally organizer and director for the South Jersey section of No Left Turn in Education. “It could be political or other types of indoctrination that are happening in our school.
“We want kids to learn how to think and not what to think.”
About 50 feet away, closer to Jake’s Place Playground, members of the Cherry Hill Collaborative (CHC) held an anti-hate rally to counter any misinformation regarding the LGBTQ+ community. They held signs that read, “We do not co-parent with right-wing radicals” and “Education is not indoctrination.”
“We’re there just to counter information and provide facts,” said Beth Becker, co-founder of the Cherry Hill Collaborative. “We are familiar with their positions on the issues that they’re going to be discussing, and we feel like people should have the actual facts, not fear-mongering rhetoric that has no basis in fact that they’re presenting.”
During the Challenge Grove Park rally, five speakers addressed a number of issues, some related to the updated curriculum. An attorney for the Child Advocate Coalition, Kristen Sinclair, spoke about diversity, equity and inclusion and equated equity to communism, due to what she perceives is a loss of individual rights.
Nicole Nance, executive administrator for GateKeepers Ministries International and parent of two grown children, asserted that it’s a parent’s responsibility to teach their kids sex ed.
“If you want your child to learn about sex in preschool or kindergarten or first grade, you teach them that,” argued Nance, who is also an executive with Founders, GateKeepers Ministry International. “The teacher? That’s not their job.”
Independent candidate for Congress Pat Kline addressed what he sees as controversial topics in the updated curriculum.
“By the end of grade eight, that means they can start kindergarten all the way up until by the end of grade 8, they’re going to teach them about vaginal, anal and oral sex,” Kline said. She called sex ed an “indoctrination” and referred to it as “filth.”
Kline encouraged parents to get involved in creating the curriculum, referencing a letter from the state that reads, “The New Jersey Department of Education believes that the strongest curriculum is one reflecting the input and expertise of the entire school community, including educators and families.”
School Superintendent Dr. Joseph Meloche later told The Sun that school staff and experts have been involved in the health curriculum and have taken care to ensure its content is developmentally and age appropriate for students.
“(The new curriculum)’s really not dramatically different (from what’s being taught now),” he noted. “ … I think (the) way folks who have worked on the curriculum under the guidance of Dr. (Farah) Mahan (director of curriculum and assistant superintendent) and (assistant superintendent) Dr. (Kwame) Morton … have been very specific about how (the changes) are going to be nuanced, and how that’s going to be used and expressed, and what the audience looks like at that time.”
Meloche said that typically, parents are only involved with the curriculum-making process if they have expertise in the particular content matter. He noted that the curriculum is created primarily by educators and occasionally outside experts; no parents were involved in forming the updated health curriculum.
Though it did not have speakers, the collaborative had handouts on why it believes opt-in–where parents agree to have their kids participate rather than opting out of the curriculum– is harmful; what the new state health standards are; and what diversity, equity and inclusion means in education.
Becker explained that having sex-ed be taught to younger students could help prevent sexual assault and create healthier relationships.
“By teaching young children about consent, about the proper terminology of their bodies, it’s not only protecting the children, but it’s giving all the children tools so they are less likely to assault someone else,” she said. “You’re teaching them about consent and everything.
“These are really really important lessons for our kids to have.”
The board of education will discuss the curriculum further at its Aug. 30 committee meetings and vote on the updated curriculum on Sept. 6. None of it will be taught before a vote.