By MADDY VITALE
Whether for or against the revised sex education standards, plenty of residents came out to the Ocean City Board of Education meeting Wednesday to say exactly how they felt about the revised curriculum.
“I am opposed. I believe that a parent has a fundamental right to make the decision for the upbringing of the child,” said Catherine Panico, a parent and Ocean City resident running for the board.
She emphasized that she believes that all children should be welcomed and valued, and she did not support any hate speech or prejudice.
“I strongly urge the board to pass new policies that state all lesson plans from every grade should be posted and include all material for parents to exercise their right to opt out from the objectionable material.”
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.
Parents can opt out their child from any portion of the revised curriculum they wish through a process explained at prior meetings.
But Ocean City High School graduate KT Muller, 19, of Ocean City, felt that, as a member of the LGBTQ community, there should be more taught to students so that there is more understanding and inclusion. She addressed the board.
“We just want a safe place to do what we want to do,” Muller said.
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.
A Sept, 8 rally in Mark Soifer Park to denounce the state sex education curriculum, has in recent weeks created what some organizers say is a backlash to some of the speakers.
Thousands of people signed a petition on Change.org under “OC Alumni,” in response to the rally. The petition maintained that the protesters sent a message that “LGBTQ students in Ocean City aren’t welcome.”
Robin Shaffer, one of the rally organizers, who is running for school board, spoke Wednesday about the fall out.
He noted that what was meant to be a peaceful rally for parental rights, resulted in further troubles between the opponents and proponents of the revised curriculum.
“Activists from outside Ocean City are attempting to hijack our message by spreading lies about the rally and those who attended it. We are being attacked online and on social media,” Shaffer said. “Children have been attacked and intimidated online simply for attending a peaceful event.”
He continued, “These are polarizing enough times without dangerous lies being promulgated by activists.”
Parent and fellow organizer, Liz Nicoletti said that her children were also intimidated after the rally.
Christine Stanford, of Ocean City, did not agree with the community members who were against the new standards. In fact, she commended the board, specifically those who voted for the new curriculum in the razor-thin margin.
“I’d like to extend my heartfelt thanks to the OCBOE members who voted yes to pass the updated New Jersey Health Education Standards,” Stanford said.
She added that the school district sets the curriculum and lesson plans, not the state.
“The teachers in the Ocean City School District are truly op notch and their experience should be respected,” she said.
Schools Superintendent Dr. Matthew Friedman told the audience that he is listening to the concerns of the community.
“We do hear you and we do take you into consideration,” Dr. Friedman noted.
Dawn Dolinsky was in support of the revised curriculum because she said that there needs to be more training and care for the students.
Her daughter, Asher Dolinsky, is an Ocean City High School student.
“My child attempted to take her own life last year. Make sure that every child who walks through the door is not faced with harassment or intimidation,” Dawn Dolinsky said. “Ocean City High School failed my kid last year.”
She said training has to occur and the revised curriculum will be a part of that.
In other matters, Drew Fasy, Ocean City resident and parent, spoke on behalf of the PTO. He gave a presentation on the possibility of a trip to Disney for the senior class.
Fasy was with Terry Camoratto, a longtime PTA and PTO board member and events chairperson. PTO President Jocelyn Palaganas could not attend.
Standing alongside Fasy and Camoratto, were Student Council President Isabella Pero and Senior Class President Charlie Costal. They spoke of how a class trip could boost morale and be memorable send off to the students before they go on to the next chapter of their lives.
“Having a destination class trip would be something special for these kids,” Fasy said.
He said that the trip would be very affordable, according to some of the figures the PTO has received.
“We are looking to be inclusive of every student in our senior class,” he said.
The hope, Fasy said, is to have a trip planned by March.
Charlie Costal told the board that it would be good for the students’ morale to go on a senior class trip.
“Being able to see a realistic milestone at the end of your experience will have a positive effect,” Isabella Pero added.
All of the state curriculum can be found under Academics at oceancityswchools.org.