Revised Health and Physical Education Standards Stress Inclusion, Ruffle Some Feathers

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At the last Board of Education meeting on April 7th
the following Clifton High School students were honored as Students of the Month: freshman Tristan Rivera, sophomore Kimberly Carazas, junior Tiffany Guerrero, and senior Liam Reilly. Congratulations to these students and to their proud families.

Paula Raygoza, who supervises the district’s PBSIS program (Positive Behavior Support In Schools), made a presentation to highlight the work being done in School 16. April is Autism Acceptance month and School 16 was honored for the way they “celebrate the talents, relationships, victories, hurdles, and everything in between on a daily basis.”

In the video presentation, School 16 principal Joanna Juarbe explained how their school approaches this program with their PAWS expectations – Practice safety, Accept responsibility, Welcome kindness, Show respect. Student Logan Reyes was recognized as a Showcase Student for earning the most ClassDojo points in his class. Congratulations to Logan and to his proud parents.

The superintendent had several comments for the community. Dr. Robertozzi reminded everyone that despite relaxed restrictions, Covid still exists. In the last two weeks alone (from the meeting date) we have had 19 positive cases among students and ten among staff. Dozens of students have needed to quarantine because if you aren’t wearing a mask and are a close contact of a positive case, you are required to quarantine for five days. Prior to removing the mask mandate, our numbers had been at zero for a couple of weeks in a row. He directed the following to seniors and senior parents – there are thousands of dollars in scholarships available to you. Check the school’s website for a list of scholarship opportunities. Registration is now open for pre-K and kindergarten, he reminded. He closed by saying that there had been some delays with referendum improvements, through no fault of the district. Further details will be discussed at a later meeting.

The state’s updated Comprehensive Health and Physical Education Standards were the clear spotlight winners at this meeting, bringing several people out to offer their thoughts on the revisions which are set to go into effect for September. From the state’s Department of Education website: “Building on a robust body of research, the New Jersey Student Learning Standards (NJSLS) provide clear and consistent learning goals across nine distinct content areas to help prepare students for postsecondary success. The standards clearly demonstrate what students are expected to learn at specific grade levels and bands, so that every parent and teacher can understand and support student learning.

The standards draw on national and international models, as well as research and input from numerous sources, including educators from kindergarten through college, scholars, assessment developers, professional organizations, parents and students, and members of the public. Refined through successive drafts and extensive feedback, the standards represent a synthesis of the best elements of standards-related work in New Jersey to date. They offer the foundation on which districts build coherent curriculum and plan instruction to prepare each New Jersey student with the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in our rapidly changing world.”

One important point to note is the distinction between the standards - the learning goals - and curriculum, which is the way the standards are taught. Curricula are developed or adopted in each district to best support these learning goals in ways that make the most sense in that district. The language arts curriculum in Clifton includes specific books, authors, and assignments, for example. Those books, authors, and assignments could be completely different in Montclair or in East Orange but in each case, the goal would be to address the learning standards. The standards tell us what
students are expected to learn. The curricula tell us how we’re going to teach those standards.

Some Clifton parents are concerned about these changes, finalized two years ago and set to go into effect in September, though in some cases there seems to be misunderstanding driving a skewed impression of what will be happening in our schools. One speaker, citing “one of the most egregious” standards, specifically objected to children in kindergarten through second grade learning that “gender role stereotypes may limit a person’s behavior.” He was angry, he said, because he works hard to teach his children that they can do or be whatever they want to be, as almost all parents do. That is the very thing this learning standard aims to teach – that gender role stereotypes are limiting and that children can do whatever they want, regardless of gender identity or expression. Boys can help cook dinner; girls can dig for worms. Boys can wear sparkly nail polish; girls can wear their hair super short. It is the stereotypes (cooking and sparkles are just for girls; worms and short hair are just for boys) which are outdated and limiting. The standards will help to ensure that every child in Clifton receives the message that their choices are not limited by
their gender; they can in fact do whatever they want to do.

One speaker objected, without specifying which part she found objectionable, on the basis that these standards were “erasing God.” The standards do not include references to any deity, nor do they present a value judgement on any particular gender or sexual identity. Instead, they aim to provide children with factual information about things that they will hear about on the playground, in the lunchroom, in movies, etc. As one speaker raised during the meeting, learning about them from a trusted adult in a classroom environment means that children will be armed with knowledge that might some day protect them from abuse, will help them to understand their own bodies as they continue to change and mature, and will give them a space in which to ask questions that they might not be comfortable asking of their own parents.

Dr. Robertozzi clarified that some of what parents were angry about came either from curricular materials circulating online that were not being used in Clifton or from a misunderstanding of what the standards aim to address. “Following the standards,” he said, “our district's focus is on medically correct terminology, health, safety, and disease prevention. The standards promote inclusiveness, respect, communication, and understanding in an age and developmentally appropriate manner. Clifton is working closely with HPE Solutions to train our staff and help guide them with our locally developed lesson plans. We are collaborating with Rutgers to provide parent information sessions too.”

Adding to this, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Janina Kusielewicz said that all lessons will be delivered in a developmentally appropriate manner. Teachers will be working on developing curricula over the summer; they need to know and understand the standards before they can implement them in their classooms. Ms. Kusielewicz said that a letter to parents would go out at the beginning of the school year and would include information about which lessons parents could choose to opt out of for their children. Students will be given an alternative assignment to complete during those lessons.

If you want to learn more about how Clifton will be approaching the revised standards, there are two parent information sessions scheduled. They will be accessible via Zoom on May 19th and May 24th. Further details will be sent out via email and posted on the district's website and social media.

The next Board of Education meeting in on Thursday, May 5th
at 7:00 at 745 Clifton Avenue, downstairs.

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