School health ed.

The Nebraska Department of Education issued a draft of new state health education standards. Our school encouraged us to respond. I responded. Here is the letter I sent to members of the state Board of Education as well as submitted as an official comment.

Hello —

I’m writing to comment on the proposed standards for health education. My husband and I are parents of five children who attend public school.

We are concerned with a number of specific standards, and with the organization of some standards, and I will follow this comment overview with a list of specific concerns. I recognize, however, that many of the standards we find objectionable are those that do not accord respect to any of the individuals involved in the instruction.

All people deserve respect. All children must be taught to respect their own minds and bodies and the minds and bodies of other people, and to hold the same standard of respect from others. Respect for children involves not just their bodies and minds, but also respecting the innocence they possess — an innocence that is unique to children.

Likewise, all adults must be respected. This includes adults in roles as parents at home and those who are teachers, staff, and administrators at school. Many of the adults at schools hold the role of parent as well. The school as an institution must accord respect to all adults, no matter their roles.

Parents are responsible for conveying their family belief system to their children, and this is a distinction the adults at school should be bound to respect. Many of the health standards are appropriate for the school environment, but many others encroach on the parents’ purview. Teaching the nuts and bolts of human development is one thing, but teaching very young students about decisions in situations such as gender dysphoria and personal sexual behavior is another. Not only does this have the potential to rip away the veil of innocence, it effectively takes the responsibility of teaching a belief system out of the hands of parents. This is strictly disrespectful to children and parents and also to every other person involved: Teachers, administration, elected school board members, even voters and taxpayers.

Additionally, many of the standards relating to gender instruction take it for granted that traditional Christian beliefs with thousands of years of history — beliefs held in common by a majority of citizens in our secular society — have been relegated to a dust bin. This is unacceptable. Freedom from establishment of religion is not equivalent to freedom to disregard or trample on religion. Furthermore, the government must not take a position of telling citizens they must normalize beliefs and behaviors that are in the extreme minority and then utilize the schools to instill normalization. Social preoccupations should not guide the composition of education standards.

Children are observant and curious, and they are not circumspect. The span of innocence varies and does not follow clear-cut steps with grade levels. When they realize something different is going on, they will ask or find some way to learn about it. Teaching students how to identify a credible source is of utmost value and is already among teachers’ responsibilities, as it should be. All the content covered in the objectionable standards — and particularly the lists of topic prompts related to gender — will not remain a mystery to the students forever. Pushing out the information as if it were a software update is absolutely not necessary, and, insofar as it could contradict a family’s belief system, can be destructive.

Please find below a list of specific concerns.

Sincerely,
Karen Nelson.


General comment: The parenthetical lists of topic prompts are generally unnecessary and would certainly tend to guide classroom discussion. If the intent is to not create a curriculum, then topic prompts undermine this intention. I recommend removing all parenthetical lists of topic prompts.

HE.K.1.3.c and HE.K.1.3.d — Recommend picking up the verbiage from HE.1.1.3.c and HE.1.3.d.

HE.K.2.1.b: {breakfast} Recommend a rewrite to include all meals and snacks as part of a framework for healthy nutrition.

HE.K.2.1.d: {Set a goal to eat breakfast every day.} Contextual misfit. Instructing children to set a personal goal is not a measurable standard.

HE.K.3.1.a: {a trusted adults} Editing error.

HE.K.4.2.a: {mask wearing} Mask wearing as a regular occurence is temporary. Aberrations should not be codified.

HE.K.5.1.d: {lightening} Editing error. Lightening and lightning are different.

HE.K.7 — Recommend combining sections 4 and 1 and naming it “Students will understand the structure and functions of the body and its systems.” Recommend reordering the points in this section to 4+1, 3, 2. It makes no sense to give sexuality precedence over the five senses. Social preoccupations should not guide the composition of education standards.

HE.K.7.1.a: {including genitalia} Recommend removing this. If children ask, correct names are certainly the only acceptable answer; but if not, it need not be a topic. Many families teach that we do not talk about or show the parts of our bodies that are under our underwear unless we are with a parent or a doctor. Discussions of genitalia in a lower-elementary classroom setting are in direct conflict with this instruction.

HE.K.7.2.a: {Discuss different kinds of family structures. (e.g. single parent, blended, intergenerational, cohabitating, adoptive, foster, same-gender, interracial).} Recommend a rewrite, such as “Discuss a family tree.” Children this age do not care about what they cannot see. If they notice — and many will not — they will not hesitate to ask about it. If a classmate’s family fits in any of those parenthetical examples, that child can still be part of a family tree just like every other child in the classroom.

HE.K.7.2.b: {Distinguish between safe and unsafe touch.} Recommend removing this. This can be so ambiguous. Some families greet with lip-to-lip kisses; in other families, lip-to-lip kisses are only for romantic partners. Some families spank; other families consider this beyond the pale. A classroom discussion can be more confusing than helpful for children.

HE.K.8.1.a: {Classify products as harmful or safe (e.g. household products, food, pesticides, gardening/yard products, health products).} Recommend a less confusing, age-appropriate rewrite, such as “Classify products as food or not food.”

HE.K.8.2.a: {lightening} Editing error. Lightening and lightning are different.

HE.1.2.1.c: {snacks and breakfast} Recommend a rewrite to include all meals and snacks, as well as portion sizes, as part of a framework for healthy nutrition.

HE.1.3.3.b: {Set a goal to be tobacco free.} Contextual misfit. Instructing children to set a personal goal is not a measurable standard.

HE.1.4.2.c: {Demonstrate how to properly brush and floss one’s teeth.} Recommend rewording to include frequency of twice a day.

HE.1.4.2.d: {Set a goal to brush one’s teeth twice a day.} Contextual misfit. Instructing children to set a personal goal is not a measurable standard.

HE.1.5.1.d: {lightening} Editing error. Lightening and lightning are different.

HE.1.7 — Recommend combining sections 4 and 1 and naming it “Students will understand the structure and functions of the body and its systems.” Recommend reordering the points in this section to 4+1, 3, 2. It makes no sense to give sexuality precedence over the heart and lungs. Social preoccupations should not guide the composition of education standards.

HE.1.7.1.a: {including genitalia} Recommend removing this. If children ask, correct names are certainly the only acceptable answer; but if not, it need not be a topic. Many families teach that we do not talk about or show the parts of our bodies that are under our underwear unless we are with a parent or a doctor. Discussions of genitalia in a lower-elementary classroom setting are in direct conflict with this instruction.

HE.1.7.2.a: {Demonstrate ways to show respect for different types of family structures.} Children should be taught respectful language and behavior for use in all situations. If a discussion of family structure must take place, recommend a rewrite to “Discuss a family tree.” All people have a family tree, and children are often fascinated by them.

HE.2.1.3.b: {they} Recommend replacing the word “they” with “every person”.

HE.2.1.3.c: {accept} Recommend replacing the word “accept” with the word “understand” because acceptance is a value judgment that may conflict with a child’s religious instruction. “Understand” accords respect while allowing the leeway to disagree.

HE.2.2.1.c: {Set a goal to drink enough water each day.} Contextual misfit. Instructing children to set a personal goal is not a measurable standard.

HE.2.2.2.a: {promotes} Editing error. Replace with promote.

HE.2.2.2.d: {Set a goal to be physically active at least 60 minutes each day.} Contextual misfit. Instructing children to set a personal goal is not a measurable standard. Also, redundant with HE.2.2.2.c.

HE.2.3.2.c: {Encourage peers to be tobacco free.} Recommend removing. Is this about reversing negative peer pressure? If so, just talk about peer pressure instead. These are second-graders, and realistically they are years away from choosing to smoke.

HE.2.4.1. {Students will understand the differences between harmful and helpful use of drugs and medication.} Editing error. Should be “Students will recognize what a disease is and how it is spread or acquired.”

HE.2.4.2.c: {Make a pledge to effectively wash hands when appropriate and cover one’s cough or sneeze.} Contextual misfit. Instructing children to make a personal pledge is not a measurable standard.

HE.2.6.4.b: {(e.g. bias, perceptions, social norms, spirituality, gender roles)} Recommend removing these topic prompts, which are well above second-grade understanding. Refer to general comment at top of sheet.

HE.2.7 — Recommend combining sections 4 and 1 and naming it “Students will understand the structure and functions of the body and its systems.” Recommend reordering the points in this section to 4+1, 3, 2. It makes no sense to give sexuality precedence over the skeleton. Social preoccupations should not guide the composition of education standards.

HE.2.7.1.a: {Recognize genitalia differences.} Many families teach that we do not talk about or show the parts of our bodies that are under our underwear unless we are with a parent or a doctor. Discussions of genitalia in a lower-elementary classroom setting are in direct conflict with this instruction.

HE.2.8.2.c: {ones} Editing error. One’s.

HE.3.3.2.b: {drugs} Editing error. Drug.

HE.3.3.2.e: {Encourage peers to be alcohol and tobacco free.} Recommend removing. Is this about reversing negative peer pressure? If so, just talk about peer pressure instead. These are third-graders, and realistically they are years away from choosing to drink or smoke.

HE.3.3.2.d: {&} Editing error. Replace with “and”.

HE.3.3.3.e: {Set a goal to be alcohol free.} Contextual misfit. Instructing children to set a personal goal is not a measurable standard.

HE.3.4.1. {Students will understand the differences between harmful and helpful use of drugs and medication.} Editing error. Should be “Students will recognize what a disease is and how it is spread or acquired.”

HE.3.5.1.c: {lockout, lockdown} Is it oversight that this is the first time for any elementary student that these are mentioned, and even then only in a parenthetical?

HE.3.5.2.b: {Illustrate how to safely ride a bike, skateboard, scooter, recreational motorized vehicles, and/or inline skate.} Recommend removing, or perhaps moving to kindergarten and eliminating anything about a motorized vehicle. Just because it can be done safely by a very young person does not mean it ought to be done at all by a very young person.

HE.3.6.3.c: {Examine cultural and media factors that promote the stigma of mental health conditions.} Recommend removing. This is not something third-graders will understand in this context.

HE.3.7 — Recommend combining sections 4 and 1 and naming it “Students will understand the structure and functions of the body and its systems.” Recommend reordering the points in this section to 4+1, 3, 2. It makes no sense to give sexuality precedence over the muscular system. Social preoccupations should not guide the composition of education standards.

HE.3.7.1.a: {Describe the functions of basic reproductive body parts.} Many families teach that we do not talk about or show the parts of our bodies that are under our underwear unless we are with a parent or a doctor. Discussions of genitalia in a lower-elementary classroom setting are in direct conflict with this instruction.

HE.3.7.2.a: {of all genders, gender expressions, and gender identities} Recommend removing. These discussions do not belong in a lower-elementary classroom setting. The discussion should focus on respect for all people, period.

HE.3.7.2.c: {Discuss the range of ways people express their gender and how gender-role stereotypes may influence behavior.} Recommend removing. These discussions do not belong in a lower-elementary classroom setting.

HE.3.7.2.e: {Define sexual orientation.} Recommend removing. These discussions do not belong in a lower-elementary classroom setting.

HE.3.7.2.g: {about gender identity and sexual orientation} Recommend removing. These discussions do not belong in a lower-elementary classroom setting. The discussion should focus on any question that needs to be posed to a trusted adult.

HE.3.8.2.c: {ones} Editing error. One’s.

HE.4.1.3.c: {Set a specific and measurable short-term health-related goal and track the progress.} This is an example of how setting a goal as an education standard can be relevant when used within a class. If, however, this is a goal the child is expected to pursue outside of the classroom, a better wording would be “Demonstrate how to set …”.

HE.4.1.3.g: {(e.g. race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, differing abilities, immigration status, family configuration)} Recommend removing these topic prompts and simply teaching respect for others. Refer to general comment at top of sheet.

HE.4.2.1.b: {Set a short-term goal to choose healthy foods for snacks and meals.} Contextual misfit. Instructing children to set a personal goal is not a measurable standard.

HE.4.2.1.c: {servings} Editing error. Serving.

HE.4.4.1. {Students will understand the differences between harmful and helpful use of drugs and medication.} Editing error. Should be “Students will recognize what a disease is and how it is spread or acquired.”

HE 4.4.1.d: {that} Editing error. Who.

HE.4.4.2.d: {Explain how family, culture, peers or media can influence personal health and wellness-related decisions. (e.g. vaccinations, holistic healing, natural/herbal treatments, spirituality).} Recommend removing. These are adult decisions.

HE.4.5.2.f: {Explain why abusive behaviors are harmful and their potential impacts.} Editing error. Recommend adding the word “discuss” before “their.

HE.4.6. This section is spot on. It is ideally suited to this age group.

HE.4.7 — Recommend combining sections 4 and 1 and naming it “Students will understand the structure and functions of the body and its systems.” Recommend reordering the points in this section to 4+1, 3, 2. It makes no sense to give sexuality precedence over the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. Social preoccupations should not guide the composition of education standards.

HE.4.7.1.a: {Define Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).} Recommend removing. This seems to be left over from education standards of decades past.

HE.4.7.1.b: {Explain that it is safe to be a friend of someone who is living with HIV or AIDS.} Recommend removing. This seems to be left over from education standards of decades past.

HE.4.7.2.d: {Differentiate between sexual orientation and gender identity.} Recommend removing. These discussions do not belong in an elementary classroom setting.

HE.4.7.2.f: {Distinguish between sex assigned at birth and gender identity and explain how they may or may not differ.} Recommend removing. These discussions do not belong in an elementary classroom setting.

HE.4.7.3.d: {Demonstrate how to ask a trusted adult questions about puberty and adolescents.} First, an editing error; adolescents should be adolescence. Second, the demonstration should focus on any question that needs to be posed to a trusted adult.

HE.4.8.1.a: {Locate trusted adults and professionals who provide valid and reliable products, services and resources for consumer health (e.g. public health personnel, medical professionals, family members, school staff, local extension office).} Recommend removing. These are adult decisions.

HE.5.3.2.c: {alcohol- and tobacco-} Editing error. The hyphens should be removed.

HE.5.3.2.e: {alcohol-, tobacco- and other drug-use} Editing error. The hyphens should be removed.

HE.5.4.1. {Students will understand the differences between harmful and helpful use of drugs and medication.} Editing error. Should be “Students will recognize what a disease is and how it is spread or acquired.”

HE.5.5.2.e: {Define what is sex- and human trafficking.} Recommend rewording. “Define sex trafficking and human trafficking.”

HE.5.7 — Recommend combining sections 4 and 1 and naming it “Students will understand the structure and functions of the body and its systems.” Recommend reordering the points in this section to 4+1, 3, 2. It makes no sense to give sexuality precedence over the digestive system and cell/organ structures. Social preoccupations should not guide the composition of education standards.

HE.5.7.2.e: {for people of all sexual orientations} Recommend removing. The discussion should focus on respect for all people, period.

HE.5.7.2.f: {Explain that gender expression and gender identity exist along a spectrum.} Recommend removing. Many people believe this is false. This is a discussion that should occur with a parent or trusted adult.

HE.5.7.3.e: {and the potential role of hormone blockers on young people who identify as transgender} Recommend removing. Many people believe this is false. This is a discussion that should occur with a parent or trusted adult.

HE.5.8 — Recommend picking up the verbiage from HE.6.8.

HE.5.8.2.a: {State how different industries (e.g. agriculture, factories) impact the environment and one’s health (e.g. water and air quality, pesticides).} Recommend removing these topic prompts. Refer to general comment at top of sheet.

HE.5.8.2.d: {Analyze how one’s family influences (positive or negative) environmental health practices and behaviors.} Recommend removing. This is highly subjective.

HE.6.2.1.b: {selects} Editing error. Select.

HE.6.2.1.f: {Explain the importance of eating breakfast every day.} Recommend a rewrite to include all meals and snacks as part of a framework for healthy nutrition.

HE.6.3.3.c: {Access school and community resources to assist with substance use, misuse, and abuse.} Recommend a rewrite because this implies that students will require this type of assistance.

HE.6.4.1. {Students will understand the differences between harmful and helpful use of drugs and medication.} Editing error. Should be “Students will recognize what a disease is and how it is spread or acquired.”

HE.6.4.1.c: {(e.g. genetics, family history, lifestyle choices, poverty, health disparities of marginalized communities, race, environment, hygiene)} Recommend removing these topic prompts. Refer to general comment at top of sheet.

HE.6.7 — Recommend combining sections 4 and 1 and naming it “Students will understand the structure and functions of the body and its systems.” Recommend reordering the points in this section to 4+1, 3, 2. It makes no sense to give sexuality precedence over the immune system and how body systems interact with each other. Social preoccupations should not guide the composition of education standards.

HE.6.7.2.b: {Define and explain differences between cisgender, transgender, gender non-binary, gender expansive, and gender identity.} Recommend removing. This is a discussion that should occur with a parent or trusted adult and absolutely not in an elementary or middle-school environment.

HE.6.7.2.c: {Define sexual identity and explain a range of identities related to sexual orientation (e.g. heterosexual, bisexual, lesbian, gay, queer, two- spirit, asexual, pansexual).} Recommend removing. This is a discussion that should occur with a parent or trusted adult and absolutely not in an elementary or middle-school environment.

HE.6.7.2.f: {the ways people express their gender and} Recommend removing. This is a discussion that should occur with a parent or trusted adult and absolutely not in an elementary or middle-school environment.

HE.7.1.3.d: {effects} Editing error. Affects.

HE.7.2.1.e: {&} Editing error. Replace with “and”.

HE.7.2.2.c: {Set, monitor, and assess progress toward a self-selected fitness goal using different types of physical activity.} This is an example of how setting a goal as an education standard can be relevant when used within a class. If, however, this is a goal the child is expected to pursue outside of the classroom, a better wording would be “Demonstrate how to set …”.

HE.7.4.1. {Students will understand the differences between harmful and helpful use of drugs and medication.} Editing error. Should be “Students will recognize what a disease is and how it is spread or acquired.”

HE.7.4.2.c: {Set a personal goal and monitor progress to prevent or reduce one’s risk of disease transmission.} Contextual misfit. Instructing children to set a personal goal is not a measurable standard.

HE.7.6.4.a: {(e.g. cultural differences, disabilities, gender, and sexual orientation)} Children should be taught respectful language and behavior for use in all situations. The list of topic prompts is unnecessary.

HE.7.7 — Recommend combining sections 4 and 1 and naming it “Students will understand the structure and functions of the body and its systems.” Recommend reordering the points in this section to 4+1, 3, 2. It makes no sense to give sexuality precedence over other body systems. Social preoccupations should not guide the composition of education standards.

HE.8.1.3.d: {in-} Editing error. Remove hyphen.

HE.8.2.2.d: {Participate in a variety of self-selected activities with moderate to vigorous intensity for a minimum of 60 minutes a day (e.g. lifetime sports, dance, aquatic, outdoor activity).} Is there any way this can be measurable as written? Recommend rewrite for that reason.

HE.8.2.3.c: {Describes} Editing error. Describe.

HE.8.3.3.b: {Make a pledge to be alcohol-, tobacco- and drug-free.} Contextual misfit. Instructing children to make a personal pledge is not a measurable standard.

HE.8.4.1. {Students will understand the differences between harmful and helpful use of drugs and medication.} Editing error. Should be “Students will recognize what a disease is and how it is spread or acquired.”

HE.6.7 — Recommend combining sections 4 and 1 and naming it “Students will understand the structure and functions of the body and its systems.” Recommend reordering the points in this section to 4+1, 3, 2. It makes no sense to give sexuality precedence over the immune system and how body systems interact with each other. Social preoccupations should not guide the composition of education standards.

HE.8.7.2.e: { Analyze how peers, family, and a person’s intersecting identities can influence attitudes, beliefs, and expectations about gender, gender identity, gender roles, and gender expression.} Recommend replacing with verbiage from HE.7.7.2.c.

HE.8.7.3.b: {adolescence} Editing error. Adolescent.

HE.HS.1.19.b: {Differentiate between sex assigned at birth, gender identity, and gender expression.} Many people believe this is false information. Recommend replacing with “Acknowledge that conversations about gender dysphoria should be conducted with a parent or trusted adult.”

Recommend reordering following HE.HS.1.17. as follows:
HE.HS.1.21.
HE.HS.1.20.
HE.HS.1.18.
HE.HS.1.19.

HE.HS.1.23.b: {their} Editing error. Its.

HE.H1.8.23.e: {Formulate an accurate and effective health-enhancing message.} Recommend removing. This duplicates HE.HS.1.23.c. Also, note error in numbering.

HS.HS.1.23.f: {Develop a plan to attain a personal health-related goal that addresses strengths, needs and risks.} Contextual misfit. Instructing students to develop a personal plan is not a measurable standard.

HE.HS.2.1.b: {&} Editing error. Replace with “and”.

HE.HS.1.16.c: {Asses} Editing error. Assess. Also, note numbering error.

HE.HS.2.18.a: {Recommend medically accurate sources of information about and local services that provide contraceptive methods (e.g. emergency contraception. condoms) and pregnancy options (e.g. parenting, adoption, prenatal care.} Recommend rewriting. Recommending such services should not be the responsibility of one’s peers.

Recommend reordering following HE.HS.2.17. as follows:
HE.HS.2.21.
HE.HS.2.20.
HE.HS.2.18.
HE.HS.2.19.

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