Nebraska education panel gets taste of emotion that's fueling health-standards debate – Omaha World Herald


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A state panel got a taste Tuesday of the passion and emotion that’s been burning across Nebraska over health education standards for schools.
Sen. Joni Albrecht of Thurston pitched to lawmakers on the Education Committee her bill that would strip the Nebraska State Board of Education of the power to write the standards.
Albrecht said the Legislature needs to send a “clear and concise” message to the board.
“Sadly, the public trust has been broken, and now it’s time for the Legislature to step in and restore that trust,” she said.
The committee members took testimony for about 2½ hours, with bill supporters and opponents taking turns. Committee members asked few questions during the hearing.
The state’s standards would be voluntary for districts to adopt.
Much of the testimony focused on whether schools should have comprehensive and inclusive health standards — not on the question of whether the state education board should have the power to write them.
Zoe Miller, a testifier from Omaha, said comprehensive health education in schools would help prevent suicide, sexual violence, high sexually transmitted infection rates and high teen pregnancy rates.
“Our health education curriculum is in dire need of reworking to be more inclusive and honest, meaning we can’t just cater our health education to cisgender White men,” Miller said.
Jo Giles, executive director of the Women’s Fund of Omaha, said all young people deserve access to complete, honest and accurate information to make informed decisions about their health and their futures.
“Omitting complete health information for young people leaves a devastating hole in their education and does not prepare them for life,” she said.
She said 57% of Nebraska kids have sex before they graduate from high school but only 8% have ever been tested for a sexually transmitted disease.
Jill Greenquist of Omaha, a wife and mother who favored the bill, said she testified to protect her children “from activist individuals and entities who believe their way of educating children should go beyond the standards of math, science, language arts and social studies.”
“I’m disappointed,” she said, “that the Nebraska Department of Education cannot be trusted with establishing educational standards that are focused on the essentials.”
Albrecht appealed to the committee to advance the bill, LB 768, for consideration by the whole Legislature.
The bill would restrict the board’s authority for developing new standards to the core academic subject areas already authorized under state law: reading, writing, math, science and social studies.
The state currently has no statewide health education standards. They are developed by local districts.
In addition, the bill would scrub the word comprehensive from a couple of passages of Nebraska law dealing with health education in schools.
Under the bill, local authorities would still be directed to provide for instructing public school students in a health education program, but the law would no longer define it as comprehensive.
The board is not required under state law to create health standards. If approved, the standards would only be recommended for adoption by local districts.
The board has previously approved similar recommended standards, beyond those required by law, in the areas of fine arts, physical education, world language and career and technical education.
Albrecht said lawmakers have a history of weighing in on major education issues, for instance passing bills on reading and civics education, drug and alcohol abuse and suicide prevention, she said.
“We, as legislators, decide the big stuff, the big stuff that’s going to make a difference in the fabric of education in the state of Nebraska,” she said.
Albrecht encouraged the committee members to read what was in the first and second drafts of the standards produced by a team of writers and the Nebraska Department of Education.
“Take the first draft and take the second draft, and tell me that you’re OK with this being in our school system,” she said.
The controversial standards have been on ice since Sept. 3 when board members, facing a groundswell of opposition, postponed their development indefinitely. The board voted 7-1 earlier this month to oppose Albrecht’s bill.
Board member Maureen Nickels on Tuesday said small school districts lack the wherewithal to write their own standards, and they rely on the state for help.
Nickels said health standards are “the only set of standards that we have not put out yet at the Department of Education, and I sincerely believe it’s important for us to have standards by the state for every curriculum out there, for every course that we teach out there.”
Nebraska has 49 state senators in the Legislature. Scroll through to find your state senator and others.
State Sen. Julie Slama
District: 1
From: Sterling
Party: Republican
State Sen. Robert Clements
District: 2
From: Elmwood
Party: Republican
State Sen. Carol Blood
District: 3
From: Bellevue
Party: Democratic
State Sen. Robert Hilkemann
District: 4
From: Omaha
Party: Republican
State Sen. Mike McDonnell
District: 5
From: Omaha
Party: Democratic
State Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh
District: 6
From: Omaha
Party: Democratic
State Sen. Tony Vargas
District: 7
From: Omaha
Party: Democratic
State Sen. Megan Hunt
District: 8
From: Omaha
Party: Democratic
State Sen. John Cavanaugh
District: 9
From: Omaha
Party: Democratic
State Sen. Wendy DeBoer
District: 10
From: Bennington
Party: Democratic
State Sen. Terrell McKinney
District: 11
From: Omaha
Party: Democratic
State Sen. Steve Lathrop
District: 12
From: Omaha
Party: Democratic
State Sen. Justin Wayne
District: 13
From: Omaha
Party: Democratic
State Sen. John Arch
District: 14
From: La Vista
Party: Republican
State Sen. Lynne Walz
District: 15
From: Fremont
Party: Democratic
State Sen. Ben Hansen
District: 16
From: Blair
Party: Republican
State Sen. Joni Albrecht
District: 17
From: Thurston
Party: Republican
State Sen. Brett Lindstrom
District: 18
From: Lincoln
Party: Republican
State Sen. Mike Flood
District: 19
From: Norfolk
Party: Republican
State Sen. John McCollister District: 20 From: Omaha Party: Republican
State Sen. Mike Hilgers
District: 21
From: Lincoln
Party: Republican
State Sen. Mike Moser
District: 22
From: Columbus
Party: Republican
State Sen. Bruce Bostelman
District: 23
From: Brainard
Party: Republican 
State Sen. Mark Kolterman
District: 24
From: Seward
Party: Republican
State Sen. Suzanne Geist
District: 25
From: Lincoln
Party: Republican
State Sen. Matt Hansen
District: 26
From: Lincoln
Party: Democratic
State Sen. Anna Wishart
District: 27
From: Lincoln
Party: Democratic
State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks
District: 28
From: Lincoln
Party: Democratic
State Sen. Eliot Bostar
District: 29
From: Lincoln
Party: Democratic
State Sen. Myron Dorn
District: 30
From: Adams
Party: Republican
State Sen. Rich Pahls
District: 31
From: Omaha
Party: Republican
State Sen. Tom Brandt
District: 32
From: Plymouth
Party: Republican
State Sen. Steve Halloran
District: 33
From: Hastings
Party: Republican
State Sen. Curt Friesen
District: 34
From: Henderson
Party: Republican
State Sen. Raymond Aguilar
District: 35 
From: Grand Island
Party: Republican
State Sen. Matt Williams
District: 36
From: Gothenburg
Party: Republican
State Sen. John Lowe
District: 37
From: Kearney
Party: Republican
State Sen. Dave Murman
District: 38
From: Glenvil
Party: Republican
State Sen. Lou Ann Linehan
District: 39
From: Elkhorn
Party: Republican
State Sen. Tim Gragert
District: 40
From: Creighton
Party: Republican
State Sen. Tom Briese
District: 41
From: Albion
Party: Republican
State Sen. Mike Groene
District: 42
From: North Platte
Party: Republican
State Sen. Tom Brewer
District: 43
From: Gordon
Party: Republican
State Sen. Dan Hughes
District: 44
From: Venango
Party: Republican
State Sen. Rita Sanders
District: 45
From: Bellevue
Party: Republican
State Sen. Adam Morfeld
District: 46
From: Lincoln
Party: Democratic
State Sen. Steve Erdman
District: 47
From: Bayard
Party: Republican
State Sen. John Stinner
District: 48
From: Gering
Party: Republican
State Sen. Jen Day
District: 49 
From: Omaha
Party: Democratic
joe.dejka@owh.com, 402-444-1077
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Joe covers education for The World-Herald, focusing on pre-kindergarten through high school. Phone: 402-444-1077.
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Democrat Deborah Neary announced on Tuesday that she will seek a second term. She says that addressing the teacher shortage is a priority.

A majority of Nebraska State Board of Education members signaled Friday they’re not willing to give up on writing health-education standards for Nebraska schools.
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