WAYNE — The school board took a step closer Thursday to approving lesson plans that incorporate new state standards for health and physical education, and parents who have long been critical of proposed changes to the program continued to tear them apart.
But the lesson plans, which cover the topics of gender expression, pregnancy and puberty, were in draft form.
The K-12 District Administration will be accepting feedback over the next few days, leading to what is now scheduled for a final vote by the Board of Education on September 8.
That didn’t stop grandmother and registered nurse Wendy Limandri from speaking out about the proposed changes this week.
“This is shit,” she exclaimed. “Nobody can talk to my child about their body parts – it opens a Pandora’s box.”
The new lesson plans are based on learning standards adopted by the state Department of Education in June 2020. Each district is supposed to implement them starting this school year, although the issue has caused such an outcry that some school boards, including Garwood and Montague, are rejecting the changes outright.
Opponents make their voices heard
Some opponents of the revised program tried to convince Wayne’s administrators to do the same, and they drew on scripture to make their case.
Dale Cavanaugh, of Kingston Road, brought his mobile phone to the pulpit and quoted the holy Gospel, according to Matthew. “They may have heard of sex before,” he said moments earlier. “They may have heard of meth, heroin and weed, too, but we don’t show them how to cook meth, smack it or roll a joint. Or us? Or is it where are we going next?”
The comments followed a presentation by Donna Reichman, assistant superintendent of schools, who told parents that the curriculum changes would affect students in grades one, two, five and eight. A lesson on puberty for fourth graders will be the same as in previous grades.
Across the four grade levels affected by the changes, there will be less than a dozen new lessons — and most of that teaching, Reichman said, will take place in a single class period. The earliest that students can be exposed to the revised curriculum is, in the case of eighth graders, the last week of the first grading term.
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Parents have the option to withdraw their children from new lessons, school officials said.
“It’s a sensitive topic — it’s not something we were going to do randomly,” Reichman said, explaining the program’s writing process. “It’s not something we would do without community input. These are your children.”
The revised curriculum includes lessons for the first year where students learn how parents care for their offspring. They read and discussed “The Family Book” by Todd Parr, then drew pictures of their own families. Meanwhile, second graders will be challenged to define reproduction and “medically accurate” terms for body parts, including genitals.
While the change in schedule irritated at least one dad, several parents told administrators they were concerned about a new lesson for fifth graders in which an activity, called “Cross the Line,” would be introduced. The goal of the game is for students to see how their peers are similar or unique to themselves.
Students would huddle to one side of their class and their teacher would ask specific questions. They would then cross to the opposite end of the room if their answer is “yes”.
It’s a sensitive subject — it’s not something we were going to do randomly.
Donna Reichman, Assistant Director of Schools
Some questions proposed for the activity were found to be innocuous, such as whether students like a certain flavor of ice cream or if they have ever had dinner at the Olive Garden Italian Kitchen, but parents said they felt that d other questions in the game were inappropriate.
A few scenarios suggest that students can be asked if they are raised by a single parent, if they are teased about their skin color, or if they have ever broken someone’s heart.
“Kids are mean,” Limandri told the school board. “And we try to teach kindness – by what? By identifying what? Sexual preference? Body parts?”
School board vice president Michael Fattal said the criticism administrators heard about the new lessons was proof the process was working. He encouraged parents to continue expressing their opinions before the next meeting.
“If there’s something positive you see, be positive,” he said. “If there is anything negative you see, please voice your concerns.”
Philip DeVententis is a local reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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