N.J. schools must teach about unconscious bias, economic inequality, new law says

By March 2, 2021 5:30 pm
Original Article: Here

New Jersey schools must begin age-appropriate lessons about diversity and inclusion as early as kindergarten under a new law signed Monday by Gov. Phil Murphy.

The law, which several Republican lawmakers vocally opposed, calls on schools to promote “economic diversity, equity, inclusion, tolerance, and belonging in connection with gender and sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, disabilities, and religious tolerance.”

It also asks schools to “examine the impact that unconscious bias and economic disparities have at both an individual level and on society as a whole.” The law takes effect next school year.

Students should already be learning to respect their individual and cultural differences as they build relationships, the bill’s Democratic sponsors said in a statement.

“The natural next step is to promote diversity, tolerance and respect for all,” said the sponsors, Assembly Democrats Carol Murphy, D-Burlington; Verlina Reynolds-Jackson, D-Mercer, Hunterdon; and Anthony Verrelli, D-Mercer, Hunterdon. “These are values students will take with them long after they graduate.”

The proposal faced opposition among Republicans in the Legislature. Opponents said the requirements trample on the rights of parents and potentially expose children to sensitive topics at too young an age.

“There’s a certain level of naivety that our children enjoy, and we should really protect that,” Assemblyman Brian Bergen, R-Morris, said earlier this year.

Bergen said he supported a previous version of the bill that was limited to grades 9 through 12.

“If we as parents want to explain different identities or sexual preferences, then that’s our prerogative and our choice,” Bergen said. “This is not a decision for the school system, and this is not a decision for the Legislature.”

Supporters argued students are already talking about these very issues. Teachers need guidance to help them teach children to accept, tolerate and appreciate differences among them, they said.

The state already requires schools to teach middle school and high school students about the political, economic and social contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. New Jersey was the second state to mandate an LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum — the requirement went into effect this school year.

Under the new requirement to further examine diversity and inclusion, the state Department of Education must develop sample lessons and resources for schools, according to the new law.

Some of what is covered in the new law already appears to be part of the state’s academic standards, which drive district curriculum.

For example, students are already supposed to learn by the end of fifth grade that all individuals should feel welcome and included regardless of their gender, gender expression or sexual orientation. That includes demonstrating ways to promote dignity and respect for all people, such as those from a different race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, immigration status or family configuration.