Ocean City Protesters Denounce State’s Sex Ed Curriculum

Ocean City Protesters Denounce State’s Sex Ed Curriculum

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Protester Liz Baxter holds up a "Teach ABC, Not Sex" sign so that traffic passing by the rally can see it.

By DONALD WITTKOWSKI

They read scripture and carried signs that said, “Teach ABC, Not Sex,” Your Children Do Not Belong to the State” and “Repeal New Sex Ed Standards.”

Their anger was directed at newly revised state health and sex education standards, denouncing them as blatantly explicit and harmful to New Jersey’s schoolchildren.

Parents and other members of the community held a protest rally on Thursday evening to urge Ocean City’s school district not to teach the state’s controversial sex education curriculum to local students.

“The mandate to teach radical ideology was wrong,” Robin Shaffer, an Ocean City resident and former educator who was one of the keynote speakers at the rally, said while blasting the state for promulgating the sex education standards.

After the rally, City Council backed the protesters by unanimously adopting a resolution in support of proposed state legislation, called the Parents Bill of Rights, that opposes the sex education curriculum.

“I am introducing the Parents Bill of Rights because the government was not being open, honest and transparent with the parents in this state,” said Councilman Tom Rotondi, the sponsor of the resolution.

Rotondi, in remarks during the Council meeting Thursday night, said the Parents Bill of Rights creates “an open, transparent process” that will include the parents in the development of the state’s sex education curriculum.

Councilman Tom Rotondi, left, seated next to Councilman Jody Levchuk, reads a statement expressing his support for the Parents Bill of Rights resolution.

In an interview before the meeting, Rotondi said he has spoken to about 100 people about the sex education standards and not one of them supports the curriculum.

“I don’t want government pushing political ideology on my kids. I want them to teach them how to read and write,” said Rotondi, the father of three young children.

The Parents Bill of Rights provides that the parents or guardians of students enrolled in New Jersey schools have a “fundamental right to engage in and direct their child’s education,” according to the proposed legislation.

The sex education curriculum, developed by Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration in 2020, offers new guidance on how schools should teach sex and gender identity. Controversial topics such as sexual orientation and abortion have ignited a storm of opposition among Ocean City parents and other members of the community.

In a 6-5 vote on Aug. 24, the Ocean City Board of Education approved the revised standards for health and sex education for Ocean City’s three schools.

Appearing at the City Council meeting Thursday night, Superintendent of Schools Matthew Friedman pledged that Ocean City’s school district would work closely with parents and the community to implement the revised standards “the way we see fit.”

“One of the things that we’ve been hard at work on is figuring out how to implement these standards in the context of what our community feels and represents overall,” Friedman said. “We’re taking the approach of implementing these (standards) in the most minimal way possible. We’re looking at it in the context of what we feel is what’s best for our students K to 12.”

Superintendent of Schools Matthew Friedman addresses City Council.

Friedman acknowledged that opposition will no doubt continue against the sex education standards, but expressed hope that the school district and the community will have “proactive conversations to come to some sort of middle ground as we look to implement these (standards) moving forward.”

As part of that process, the school district is planning a series of presentations with parents and the community about the sex education curriculum. They are scheduled for Sept. 13 at the high school, Sept. 14 at the intermediate school and Sept. 15 at the primary school. Each one will be held at 6 p.m.

City Council President Pete Madden praised Friedman’s strategy to have the school district work closely with the community. Madden said Council’s resolution in support of the Parents Bill of Rights shows that the city’s local government, the school district and the community are all “on the same page.”

Mayor Jay Gillian issued a statement saying that this issue “is more appropriately dealt with by the Board of Education. As mayor and a former school board president, I appreciate parents taking the initiative to involve themselves in the education of their children.”

Rotondi and other members of City Council stressed that they support the school district, teachers and administration.

“I want this to be abundantly clear: The support for the Parents Bill of Rights legislation has nothing to do with our great teachers, school leaders and administration,” Rotondi said.

“This has nothing to do with the school board’s decision to adopt the new health curriculum forced on them by the state,” he added.

Some of the protesters who spoke at the rally also appeared at the City Council meeting to express their support for the Parents Bill of Rights resolution.

Holding signs, protesters gather in Mark Soifer Park to denounce the state sex education curriculum.

Altogether, about 100 protesters attended the rally held in Mark Soifer Park across from City Hall. In addition to carrying signs opposing the sex education standards, they also joined in prayer.

Liz Baxter, an Ocean City resident, prominently carried a protest sign that said, “Teach ABC, Not Sex.” She held the sign so it could be seen by traffic passing by the park on Ninth Street in the center of downtown.

“I’m really disappointed that the school district voted for the governor’s sex education program,” Baxter said of the Ocean City Board of Education.

Another protester, Lora Huber, has a 17-year-old daughter who is an Ocean City High School senior.

Huber, who lives in Ocean City, said she opposes the sex education curriculum because she believes it will harm the children’s mental, emotional and physical health.

“I’m here for the truth, not lies,” she said.

Speakers at the rally directed their criticism at Gov. Murphy, the New Jersey Department of Education and the New Jersey Education Association, the union representing state teachers.

They also denounced the six Ocean City school board members who voted on Aug. 24 to approve the sex education curriculum – Patrick Kane, Joe Clark, Charles Roche, Bill Sooy, Chris Halliday and newly appointed Ryan Leonard.

Speaker Robin Shaffer calls the state sex education standards “radical ideology.”

One of the main speakers, Robin Shaffer, called the school board’s vote “unconscionable” and labeled Gov. Murphy an extremist for promoting what Shaffer asserted was the state’s “radical sexual and gender orthodoxy.”

Among other speakers, Shaffer was joined by Catherine Panico and Liz Nicoletti. Shaffer, Panico and Nicoletti were losing candidates in the November 2021 school board election and plan to run again this November.

In her remarks at the rally, Panico urged the protesters to attend the school board meetings to express their opposition to the sex education curriculum. She blasted the sex education standards as “pernicious” and warned that they could open a “Pandora’s box” for other state requirements for the school district.

Nicoletti told Council that the state is “sexualizing our children” through the revised sex education curriculum.

“A second grader has to define reproduction. Are you kidding me?” Nicoletti said incredulously about one part of the sex education program.

The protesters also heard from Danna Ramirez, a 10th grade student at the high school. Ramirez said she believes that many of the Ocean City students are simply too young to learn about sex education. She maintained that parents should teach their children about sex education, not the schools.

“I beg you to talk to your kids before the school does,” she said at the rally.

In the meantime, a local group called the Ocean City Family Alliance has been circulating a community petition calling on the school board to reject the state’s sex education curriculum.

Speakers Catherine Panico, with bullhorn, and Liz Nicoletti are prominent opponents of the sex education standards.