Activists are at odds with Millstone Township BOE sex-ed curriculum changes

Millstone Township BOE meeting Feb. 2023.
Millstone Township BOE meeting in February of 2023. Photo by Lana Leonard

The Millstone Township Board of Education (BOE) voted unanimously for in-class restrictions to the LGBTQ-inclusive health and sex education curriculum mandated by the state on Aug. 22, 2022. Now five months later, the public is just becoming aware of them. Millstone joins several other school districts in the Garden State that have adopted a “Parents Rights in Education” standard.

Millstone Township BOE meeting Feb. 28, 2023
LGBTQ community and allies before the Millstone Township BOE meeting in February 2023. Photo by Lana Leonard.

At last month’s Millstone Township BOE meeting many in attendance spoke out against the district’s new sex education curriculum. The new material excludes LGBTQ education and students from the curriculum, attendees say. Additionally, the curriculum regards certain sex-ed topics as a part of “At Home Learning Standards,” but the BOE doesn’t specify what those standards are.

According to the Aug. 22 meeting minutes, Board Member James Cignarella said the K-8 district needs to “be careful” not to create a “muddy slope” of education best left to “at home instruction.”

LGBTQ activists were not happy about the “at home instruction.” They point out that parents have had to dig to find the new curriculum restrictions since then. “The only way you’d know they weren’t teaching [sex education] is if you happened to be at the particular summer BOE meeting when they announced it then. You have to go through the curriculum grade-by-grade then subject-by-subject,” Natalie Biello, a Millstone parent, said in an email to Out in Jersey.

“I don’t think we need to belabor any part of this curriculum,” said Biello. “We just need to normalize things that kids may not be exposed to at home. Public education is meant to give kids all the information they need to be functioning members of society.” 

Teachers will cover “the basics” in some instances of the new curriculum. The parents address the rest, according to Millstone’s sex education and health curricula. The newly adopted curriculum negates discussion of sexual orientation, gender identity, puberty and general sex education topics. Many of the activists and parents at the February meeting said the new curriculum is at odds with the New Jersey 2019 LGBTQ inclusive curriculum law. It also upends development goals set by the state’s “blueprint” for curriculum development.

As an example, the K-2 curriculum on gender identity and sexual orientation is strictly an “at home” discussion. But, by the end of second grade, the state blueprint requires all students to understand diversity in the way people dress, “their mannerisms,” and “things others like to do.”

Such quandaries exist in other curriculum changes too. Seventh graders will learn about vaginal sex “to some extent,” oral and anal sex is then left to “At Home Learning Standards.” Sexual consent adheres to the same standards, among other topics in the eighth grade health curriculum

Michael Gottesman, the founder of New Jersey Public Education Coalition, said the board is misguiding students. “You cannot confirm that parents will teach this curriculum at home,” Gottesman said during public comment. “This action subverts the mandate and is an attempt to reward special interest groups.” 

Some parents had suggested at the meeting segregated schooling — as if gender and sexuality only apply to LGBTQ people. 

“We got to keep this stuff out of our schools. If the LGBTQ community feels a certain way, then open up a private LGBTQ school,” said Nick Nowikow, Millstone resident and parent. “Do you know how many tomboys I went to school with, that turned into young, beautiful women as adults?”

Others at the BOE meeting were concerned about how the curriculum will mold the students. “We care about our children and want them to be safe. Therefore, our children have a right to sex education so that they can identify body parts and abusive behavior,” said Julian Klein, a transgender activist from Ocean Township. “LGBTQ students must see themselves reflected in [the] curriculum.” 

For former Millstone Board of Education member Dr. Amy Jacobson, LGBTQ exclusion and voluntary ignorance doesn’t reflect the district community. “[W]e have given too much shrift to the voice of a few very loud voices that are not necessarily in the best interest of our community and our children.”