Let's Talk About Sex Ed


At the May 5th meeting of the Clifton Board of Education two major topics were discussed – the updated Comprehensive Health and Physical Education Standards and the budget. The budget passed with a 2% increase after much discussion and an outpouring of support from Clifton educators and was reported on separately by NorthJersey.com. Janina Kusielewicz, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction and Nicole Turi, Supervisor of Physical Education, gave a presentation on the standards in an effort to help correct some circulating misinformation.

“There has been a lot of discussion, a lot of misinformation, a lot of talk about the new health standards…I want every parent and every member of our community and every commissioner here to know that I believe and this district believes that a parent has the right to help direct the educational upbringing of their children…all I ask is that before you make any decisions you make sure that you are making an informed decision based on facts, based on information from reliable sources, and based on the correct information,” said Superintendent Dr. Danny Robertozzi.

Ms. Kusielewicz opened by sharing some additional thoughts on the issue of circulating misinformation, including things brought up by members of the public during earlier meetings. Some of this has included sample lessons that the district had difficulty identifying, as it had not come from our district nor from the state. Ms. Kusielewicz explained that while we must teach to the standards – the learning outcomes – we are not mandated to teach them with any specific curriculum or with any particular materials. Those decisions remain with each school district and Clifton is working on developing curricula which align with the standards and are developmentally appropriate for our students.

“Our primary goal is the mental and physical health and safety of our students, disease prevention, fostering respect for ourselves and others, and understanding and acceptance of those other than ourselves,” she said.

Ms. Kusielewicz also explained that, while they may look very different on paper, these updated standards are not radically different from what we’ve been teaching for many years. Many things, like breast self-examination and dating violence education, have been in the curriculum since 2014 or earlier. 2019 saw consent and sexual abuse added to our health education curriculum.

Nicole Turi addressed a specific standard for kindergarten through second grade which deals with understanding how individuals make their own choices about how to express themselves. She showed a video of someone reading the brightly illustrated book, “It’s ok to be different” as an example of something that will be part of the Clifton curriculum to address this standard. This rhyming book highlights many ways that we are different from each other – different sizes, different shapes, different interests, and different physical abilities. In one photo, someone identified as “this little fellow” is dressed in pink and is coloring with it too. That is as involved as the book ever gets in terms of gender expression or gender stereotypes. “We are all different” is repeated over and over, with a focus on how each person is perfectly ok the way they are.

Ms. Turi also talked about the standard on gender role stereotypes and how those can limit behavior. She shared another video, this one from Thomas the Tank Engine. The theme was “How boys and girls should be given the same chance” and introduced viewers to some girl engines on Sodor who were doing all of the same hard work as the boys. Another video showed school children react with surprise when a doctor, a fighter pilot, and a firefighter entered their classroom and all were women. The idea is to stress that gender does not dictate what we like or what we can do.

The next standard Ms. Turi talked about, for grade five, speaks to differentiating between gender identity and sexual orientation. She said that the Clifton-developed curricula would limit this to definitions only. Children will learn that gender identity is how you feel and sexual orientation is who you love.

The standards on personal growth and development are things which might be addressed in one or two lessons over the course of a student’s 20-week Health cycle and have not changed substantially from what we have already been teaching in Clifton, Ms. Kusielewicz said. Although the standards have been updated, the actual taught content is the same as it’s been for many years. Topics include puberty and the reproductive systems.

“We teach abstinence first,” Ms. Turi said as they moved into the eighth-grade standards. Various types of sex are included in teaching this standard since the focus is on disease and pregnancy prevention and it’s important that children understand the potential risks of various behaviors. Ms. Turi read through the topics that are included in grade eight and up through twelfth. These include information on sex trafficking so that children know what to watch out for and on breast and testicular self-examination so that children have the tools to identify any potential issues early on. You can watch the entire presentation here, starting at minute 40:15.

The district will also be hosting two parent information sessions to further discuss how Clifton will be addressing the updated standards. The session for grades K-5 will be on May 19 from 6 pm-7:30 pm and the session for grades 6-12 will be on May 24 from 6 pm – 7 pm. Links will be provided for both on the district website.

The next Board of Education meeting will be held on Thursday, May 19 at 7 pm. Meetings are held at 745 Clifton Avenue. You enter from the parking lot doors and go downstairs.

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