(The Center Square) – New Jersey Republicans are fuming over an update to the state’s “equity” plan for schools, accusing education officials of focusing too much on “identity politics” rather than helping students recover from the impacts of the pandemic.
On Wednesday, the state Board of Education is expected to consider proposed amendments to its three year “Managing for Equality and Equity in Education” plan, which was originally adopted in 2003.
The equity plan requires school districts to “guarantee each student equal access” to programs, services and other benefits regardless of the student’s race, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, religion, disability or socioeconomic status.
Education officials want to update the plan to eliminate gender nouns and pronouns, use more “inclusive language” and list other protected classes of students such as immigrants, among other changes.
But Senate Republicans are blasting the proposal, posting a blog post claiming the changes are an “explicit acknowledgment” that the state’s education board “cares more about boosting certain groups, regardless of individual educational needs, at the expense of efforts to ensure good outcomes for every student.”
The GOP leaders called on the education board to focus more on “memory loss” among students who lost in-class instruction time when schools were shut down during the height of the pandemic.
“Instead of coming up with a plan to help students get caught up, the state board continues its march to infuse gender identity and progressive politics into every aspect of our children’s education,” said Senate Minority Leader Steven Oroho, R-Sussex. “They should put as much effort into helping students get better at reading, writing, and math.”
In a memo outlining the changes, acting Education Commissioner Angelica Allen-McMillan said the amended rules will “provide school districts, parents, students, and other citizens with a clear guide and mechanism for all students to have equitable access to educational opportunity” while narrowing the “opportunity gap.”
“Eliminating inequity in school communities and in society requires that inequitable practices in an educational setting be explicitly defined and prohibited,” she wrote.
But Republican lawmakers said the proposed changes would also prevent schools from separating boys and girls for certain portions of sex education classes, instead allowing students to be separated for those lessons based on their gender identity.
“This is another effort by extremists to force their politics into our classrooms at the expense of our kids’ education and well-being,” Sen. Joe Pennacchio, R-Morris/Passaic, said in a statement.
GOP lawmakers cited proposed amendments replacing references to “equality” with “equity” and “achievement gap” with “opportunity gap” in the state’s education guidelines.
A spokesman for the state Department of Education didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about GOP lawmakers’ complaints.
Senate Republicans pointed out that the agenda for the meeting was only posted two days ago, and that the board won’t be allowing public comment on the equity plan.
In response, Republican lawmakers filed new legislation that would mandate a minimum of five days’ notice for Board of Education meetings. The proposal also would require the public be permitted to provide public comment on all agenda items of a public meeting that are not subject to executive session.
“Since the start of the pandemic, parents have been denied a voice in education policy by the Murphy administration and the State Board of Education,” Oroho said. “Senate Republicans are fighting to give it back.”