By MADDY VITALE
At nearly every Ocean City Board of Education meeting, the revised state health and sex education standards remain a hot topic of discussion brought up by the public.
There are two distinct sides: People opposed to and people in favor of the state-mandated curriculum developed by Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration in 2020, which offers new guidance on how schools should teach sex and gender identity.
Thursday night’s Board of Education meeting was no different, despite many things on the agenda, such as a presentation highlighting the fall athletes and a ceremony to honor the essay winners who wrote about the significance of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The former Board of Education voted in support of the curriculum, including three of four losing incumbents. New school board members Catherine Panico, Liz Nicoletti and Robin Shaffer won election in November following their opposition to the board’s approval last year of state sex education standards that they assert are too graphic for schoolchildren. They were part of broader community opposition toward the sex education curriculum.
During the public portion of the meeting, Ocean City resident John Henry spoke of how the revised curriculum is not in line with what the majority of people want in the school community.
Henry spoke of how the newcomers to the board who are opposed to the revised standards have been “maligned by activists and journalists” for their beliefs.
Video Courtesy of the Ocean City School District and Martin Fiedler, Just Right TV Productions.
Henry touched upon a rally in September that brought together three newcomers to the board, Panico, Shaffer and Nicoletti, and other parents, teachers and members of the community who are against the new standards.
He pointed out that one substitute speaker, Rev. Gregory Quinlan, made anti-LGBTQ slurs during the rally that were not in line with what the others in attendance believed.
“If the comments made by the last-minute substitute speaker of that rally represented these three speakers, I could understand, but those comments do not represent the community, or the majority of members on the board, and certainly not these three members,” Henry said.
He added, “Despite the controversy, I remain hopeful. This is a family community and one of the best places to go to school in the country, but those standards don’t reflect the community.”
Two representatives spoke from “We Belong Cape May County,” a nonprofit organization made up of parents, students, educators and others who want to make it clear that the LGBTQ community should be supported in the school district, the town and throughout the county.
Christine Stanford, an Upper Township mother of two, is a member of “We Belong Cape May County.”
“I just want to remind our community and board members that words are important and that they matter, even more so when children are involved. They hear what we say and they see what we do,” Stanford said, noting that there were some remarks at the last school board meeting about the use of “pronouns.”
“Several speakers gave similar remarks, and I would like to address those sentiments. When you say you welcome all types of students and in the next breath say, we need to stop teaching pronouns, you are invalidating your previous claim. I know you are concerned with academics,” Stanford said. “We all are. But respect and acceptance are paramount. A child is not going to succeed in an environment where they are not respected.”
Later in the meeting, Shaffer noted that he continues to want to see change in the revised state standards.
“We have some more work to do. There is some community interest in taking another bite of the apple, because there is not satisfaction where our curriculum is,” he said.
School Board President Chris Halliday addressed the community with a statement he said he felt compelled to make after all of the controversy and news reports about the Ocean City school district and the LGBTQ community.
“I believe inclusion is a fundamental principal of the public education system,” Halliday said. “All students, teachers and staff should feel safe, empowered and welcomed in the Ocean City school district, no matter what sexuality, sexual orientation, identity, race, religion or background.
He continued, “Ocean City school district is a community that values every person who comes to the school to learn, teach, support teachers, as well as the staff.”
Among other matters during the meeting was a presentation to recognize the fall athletes who showcased their talents on and off the field.
Interim Athletic Director Michael Pellegrino gave a presentation of the fall sports highlights and gave the athletes certificates of achievement and also highlighted the top performers.
Schools Superintendent Dr. Matthew Friedman also recognized the student athletes for their hard work.
“I was very fortunate to attend at least one of each of the fall sports events and to see our student athletes carry themselves on and off the field with such class. They represent Ocean City so well,” Friedman said. “It is a true honor to represent the district as the school superintendent at these events, and to see our students act with such class and dignity at these events. I wanted to publicly thank them.”
Also during the meeting, Friedman thanked the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day essay winners who were celebrated for their writing ability and impactful prose.
Four Intermediate School students, Kendall Barnes, Sydney Halliday, Gabriel Meron and Sofia Wright, had the winning essays that they read during the city’s Martin Luther King Day Jr. ceremony at the Music Pier.
Each of their essays highlighted how Dr. King and his leadership in the civil rights movement had on a community then and now.
“I want to recognize the four winners of the essay contest,” Friedman said. “I was blown away by your poise, your depth of writing and your stature speaking to a larger audience. It takes a lot of guts. It was pretty amazing.”
Sofia Wright could not attend the meeting, but the other three winners received certificates from the superintendent.
Principals in the high school, intermediate and primary schools honored their Students of the Month for January and read descriptions of the students’ accomplishments.
For a list of the January Students of the Month click here: https://ocnjdaily.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/Students-of-the-Month-1.pdf
For more information about Ocean City Schools and to see a list of upcoming meetings, visit oceancityschools.org.