On Feb. 15, the Education Committee heard testimony regarding a bill designed to prevent the State Board of Education from setting health care standards for Nebraska public schools.
LB768, introduced by Senator Johnny Albrecht of Thurston, prohibits the board from developing, approving, disseminating, adopting, or publishing standards of academic content for subjects other than reading, writing, math, science, and social studies.
The bill will also limit school health programs to training on use, abuse and drug abuse. Under current law, programs must include this instruction, but may be exhaustive. The Commissioner for Education is responsible for the preparation and distribution of textbooks and materials for health courses.
Albrecht said the LB768 would be a “long overdue test” in the State Board of Education and the State Department of Education. She said the organizations violated public confidence last year after proposing medical education standards that contain controversial material opposed by the “overwhelming” number of Nebraska residents.
“The State Board of Education and the Department of Education should focus on improving the standards they are empowered to develop by this legislature,” Albrecht said. “Everything else needs to be returned and decided by the local schools themselves.”
Jill Greenquist of Omaha testified in support of the bill. She said she wanted to protect her children from “activists and organizations” who believe that education should go beyond core subjects.
Greenquist said it was clear to her that the department could not be trusted to set “common sense” medical education standards.
Mary Hamilton, a resident of District 25, also testified in support, saying parents and teachers felt left out when the board developed the proposed standards. She said comprehensive sex education should not be part of these standards.
“I want the curriculum and programs used by public schools to be in line with the values of most Nebraska parents,” Hamilton said.
Doug Kagan of Omaha testified in support of LB768 on behalf of Nebraska taxpayers for freedom. Limiting the council’s powers to develop standards of academic content is necessary because a majority of council members voted earlier this month to stop working on draft standards that “violate traditional societal norms,” he said.
If LB768 passes, Kagan said, local school boards can still adopt their own health program.
Jesse Barando, a specialist in adolescent medicine, testified against the bill. He said every major medical organization that focuses on caring for youth and adolescents supports accurate medical education that can improve health outcomes and save on taxes and dollars on health care.
“It is frustrating when misunderstandings and inaccurate political rhetoric stifle the good intentions of such health education,” Barando said.
Denise Powell of Omaha also spoke out against the opposition. She said the sanitary education her 6th-grade daughter received at school helped them have more open, age-appropriate conversations about puberty, sex and sexuality.
Also in opposition was Abby Swatsworth of OutNebraska. She said all respondents to a recent Nebraska youth survey indicated that they needed more information about sexual orientation, gender identity, consent and healthy relationships.
Swatsworth said the survey also found that only one in three LGBTQ youth in Nebraska feels confirmed in their identity at home. Comprehensive health education, which would include education on sexual orientation and gender identity, could prevent suicide among these young people by helping them feel noticed and respected, she said.
Jill Brown, a developmental psychologist and professor at Crete University, also spoke out against the law. She said a comprehensive sex education for public school students is necessary because the gaps in parental knowledge are “huge and real”.
«[Health education] it has to be comprehensive if it wants to be effective, ”Brown said.
The Committee did not take immediate action on LB768.