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N.J. is 2nd State to Adopt LGBTQ Inclusive Ed!

21 Feb Posted by in • Robin Lowey | Comments Off on N.J. is 2nd State to Adopt LGBTQ Inclusive Ed!
N.J. is 2nd State to Adopt LGBTQ Inclusive Ed!

New Jersey is now following in California’s footsteps, becoming the second state to mandate that schools to include an LGBTQ curriculum.

The law, which New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed Jan. 31, does not apply to private schools, only public, as in California.

It also requires that schools teach about people with disabilities. Civil rights and advocacy groups hailed the measure, saying it would give students a fuller picture of U.S. history while fostering respect and understanding.

Under the legislation, all middle and high schools must have instructional materials – including textbooks – that “accurately” portray LGBTQ people. The coursework will begin with the 2020-21 school year. Christine Lee, a spokesperson for Gov. Murphy, said in a statement to NBC News. “The Governor believes that ensuring students learn about diverse histories will help build more tolerant communities and strengthen educational outcomes.”

Christian Fuscarino, executive director for Garden State Equality, a statewide LGBTQ advocacy group said: “It’s critical that our classrooms highlight the achievements of LGBTQ people throughout history. Our youth deserve to see how diverse American history truly is — and how they can be a part of it one day, too.” 

GLSEN, a national LGBTQ student advocacy organization, has found that “including lessons that promote respect and appreciation for diversity will help to reverse current rates of bullying and harassment LGBT students face on a regular basis.These lessons have also been linked to reduced absenteeism, with 17 percent of students in schools with an inclusive curriculum missing school in the past month because of feeling unsafe compared to 33 percent of students who attend schools without an inclusive curriculum,” a recent GLSEN report states.

School boards may face resistance in communities where parents believe LGBT issues are sensitive and should be discussed in the home. Pervasive anti-gay sentiment could also cast a shadow over the process — yet that kind of sentiment is precisely why this kind of education is needed, advocates say.

“We know it’s beneficial to all students,” said Becca Mui, education manager for GLSEN, “It exposes them to a more inclusive and accurate account of history, helps them have a better understanding of LGBT people and their historic contributions, and can help promote acceptance and diversity.”

Under the law, each school board is expected to adopt policies and curriculum changes aligned with the state’s learning standards. The New Jersey Department of Education is figuring out next steps for the new law, a spokesman said, and is expected to develop guidance for school districts, with input from different groups, that reflect the new requirements. The law also calls for districts, when they buy new books and instructional materials, to purchase ones that accurately portray diversity and the contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

New Jersey’s law is modeled after one in California, called the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful Education Act, or FAIR. The law, which went into effect in 2012, requires public schools to adopt history and social studies curriculum that represents individuals who are LGBT and those who have disabilities. Four years later, the state adopted more specific standards that spell out what students should learn by grade level, which serve as guidelines for schools.

It’s up to each California school district to decide how high schools will teach the standards. Rick Oculto, education manager of the advocacy group Our Family Coalition, advises schools to avoid “tokenized history” that focuses on a major leader or event in isolation.

Rather, the goal is to put lessons into context of what’s going on in the rest of the world at a given time, said Oculto, whose organization works with schools to develop inclusive courses.

Dominic Le Fort, executive director of Queer Education, a nonprofit that helps families and schools meet the objectives of the law in California, said many schools haven’t adopted new lessons.“Adoption has just been very slow,” he said.

Some districts faced delays because they lack updated textbooks, or because of pressure from parenting groups. In some cases, faculty members were reluctant to teach the topic “either because they don’t know enough or because they have a moral issue with it,” Le Fort said.

While the law in New Jersey is aimed at middle and high schools, in California it starts in second grade, when students are expected to learn about family diversity, including mixed race, disabled or same-sex parents.

New Jersey’s LGBT law does not specify how the state will monitor compliance by school

Advocates, though, said the lessons will help gay and transgender students feel more connected and promote tolerance and respect amid concerns over bullying.

Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Englewood, represents the 37th Legislative District in the New Jersey General Assembly. She was one of the primary sponsors of the LGBT curriculum legislation.

She wrote an opinion piece on NorthJersey.com:

““Way to go, New Jersey – you change history and now it’s Adam and Steve instead of Adam and Eve.”

“I’m not for it. Either way, how I raise my kids is my business, not the school’s or government’s.”

“It’s so dumb. How about you teach the kids real history?”

These are examples of criticisms facing the new LGBT-inclusive curriculum law in New Jersey.

Let’s be clear: This law is not pandering to a specific community and it is not the government intruding on the way that parents should be raising their children. This law ensures that our curriculum will be fair, accurate, inclusive and respectful of the contributions made by disabled persons and the LGBT community.

Our school curriculums ensure that students understand the contributions of Greek philosophers and Roman emperors, so why are our students not educated on the career of Harvey Milk or the activism of Marsha P. Johnson, who was long left out of the narrative surrounding the 1969 Stonewall riots? Likewise, the stories of the disabled community deserve to be heard and remembered; history shouldn’t stop with Helen Keller, her achievements though incredible, are not the sole achievements of the disabled community.”

Huttle also stated that although there may be “growing pains,” New Jersey is doing the right thing. “There’s never 100 percent agreement on a law, but we have come such a long way in the struggle for equal rights of LGBTQ and disabled, and I think timing is everything,” she said. “Once it’s implemented and we work it out and get positive feedback, I think New Jersey will be a fairer and more inclusive state for it.”

If you want to help support providing resources for LGBTQ books in public schools in California please go to Lesbiangamechangers.com for more info!

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