Gov. Pete Ricketts will host a “Protect Our Kids & Schools” town hall in Gering as he continueS to speak out about health standards being considered by the Nebraska State Board of Education.
The town hall will be held 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Gering Civic Center on Thursday, July 15.
“...We’re really focusing on the sex ed standards and how parents can get involved and give input to the State Board of Education, and make their voices heard,” Ricketts told the Star-Herald in an interview Friday.
The first draft of the standards, made public in March, have been controversial as the human development and growth section includes lessons about gender identity, gender stereotypes and other topics for elementary school children.
The standards, if approved, would only be recommended for adoption by local school districts. In recent weeks, 30 state senators, including Panhandle senators John Stinner, Steve Erdman and Tom Brewer have also spoken out against the standards in a letter, urging local school boards not to adopt them. In the letter, the lawmakers called on local school boards to adopt a resolution opposing the draft curriculum.
Ricketts described himself as shocked by portions of the health standards, citing particular concerns about the human development and growth sections of the standards.
“As I’ve read the standards, I was shocked to find things that are in there that are age inappropriate, that are controversial,” he said. "Some of them are not only not science-based, but factually wrong, and that is why I wanted to raise awareness with parents.”
He objects to standards that teach kindergartners about family structure, but he says do not talk about “traditional” family structures of a mother and father in a heterosexual relationship.
He objects to portions of the standards that propose teaching first-grade children about gender identity and teach third graders about sexual orientation. In fourth grade, proposed standards call for teaching children more about sexual orientation and gender identity, which is where Ricketts cites one section that he says is “not science-based and factually wrong” that states that sex is assigned at birth. Sex is determined at the moment of conception, based on DNA, he said.
He objects to sixth graders being taught about topics such as transgender, cisgender and nonbinary and cites as “one of the more shocking things” that 12-year-olds are taught about anal and oral sex.
The State Board of Education is an elected board and doesn’t report to the governor, he said, which many people don’t know.
“So it’s important, if we’re going to change these standards, the parents weigh-in directly with the board, to get them to change the standards. It’s not something that I can do as governor.”
Ricketts said he doesn’t believe that the State Board of Education can fix the standards, but they need to be totally scrapped.
“The topics we’re talking about are best left up to parents and local school boards to decide how to be addressed within the schools,” he said. “In fact, there is no requirement that the state board of education create sex ed standards.”
Advocacy groups, such as OutNebraska, were involved in the process of drafting the standards, but according to Ricketts, parents were not. He cited the state’s chief medical officer as among the persons he says should have been involved in drafting the standards, but was not. A listing of persons involved in consulting on the standards is listed on the Nebraska Department of Education’s website.
Ricketts said he urges parents to read the standards for themselves and talk to their local school boards, as well as contact their State Board of Education member and email the State Department of Education.
“We encourage parents to go, understand what curriculum is currently being taught by their schools, find out what their current opt-out policies are with regard to the schools,” he said. “A lot of it is just really encouraging parents to really engage, and get involved, and understand what is actually in the standards and how they can speak up about it.”
The Nebraska Legislature declined twice to adopt bills that would set standards around sex education, in 2012 and 2015, Ricketts said. He said he believes that as a reaction to the currently proposed standards that a bill could come forth limiting the scope of the state Board of Education, depending on its action on the health standards. He also cites previous court cases in Nebraska history that he says upholds a parent’s right to determine their child’s education.
Ricketts has also spoken out in recent weeks on critical race theory being taught in schools.
“If somebody asks us a question about critical race theory, we’ll talk about it,” he said, but the main focus of the town hall is to address the health standards.
Anyone is welcome at the town hall, Ricketts said, and there has been some people attend previous town halls held across the state who were in support of the standards. At a recent town hall in Columbus, he estimated that 165 people attended and said that each of the town halls has had more than 100 people in attendance. School board members have also been among those attending to hear the concerns of parents.
An anticipated approval date for the Nebraska Health Standards has been set for the fall.
A copy of the proposed standards and other materials are available on the Nebraska Department of Education website. A direct link to materials is available here: https://www.education.ne.gov/healthed/health-education-standards-development/