BARNEGAT, NJ – Those who don’t go beyond salacious headlines might think that in-depth coverage of anal sex represents a new addition to eighth grade public school curriculum.  One problem. The New Jersey Department of Education says otherwise. Barnegat parents may want to know the big picture when it comes to sex education classes.

“The subject of anal sex has been part of the state’s academic standards since 2009,” confirmed Michael Yaple, Communications Spokesman for the State Department of Education. “It’s been included within the context of preventing STIs.”

In the area of Human Relationships and Sexuality, the state has some basic standards. Up until now, children learned about medically accurate names for body parts, including the genitals in Grade 2. By the end of the sixth grade, instruction turned to responsible actions regarding sexual behavior on their own health and others. This includes determining behaviors that place them at risk for “HIV/AIDS, STIs, HPV, or unintended pregnancy.”

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Through this school year, Barnegat and other NJ public schools followed the guidelines set by the 2014 NJSLS for Comprehensive Health and Physical Educationpdf. That document describes “sexually transmitted infection (STI). an illness that has a significant probability of transmission between humans or animals by means of sexual contact, including vaginal intercourse, oral sex, and anal sex.”

Every few years, the New Jersey Department of Education updates its Student Learning Standards. Notably, the guidance does not just focus on sex education. For example, this year’s revision includes adding in the concept of climate change.

According to the new 2020 NJSLS documentpdf, schools are expected to begin teaching about pregnancy and parenting by the end of fifth grade. This includes explaining the relationship between sexual intercourse and human reproduction. Students will also learn about sexual orientation and gender identity, with a goal of promoting dignity and respect for all people.

As students move up to the eighth grade, the state’s core ideas require teachers to go into more detail about pregnancy and prenatal care. This includes describing pregnancy testing, the signs of pregnancy, and pregnancy options, including parenting, abortion, and adoption.

The focus turns to an emphasis on factors that contribute to making healthy decisions about sex. Eighth graders will be presented with the definitions of vaginal, oral, and anal sex. They will also learn about factors regarding the issue of consent. Birth control and STIs are part of the curriculum for students finishing middle school.

“Teachers treat the subject matter with great sensitivity and the content is delivered to students in a manner that is age appropriate,” said Jim Barbiere, Barnegat School District’s Director of Curriculum, Instruction, & Human Resources.

By the end of high school, students learn more about pregnancy and childbirth. They receive more education on sexually transmitted diseases and setting up boundaries as far as intimate and sexual relationships. Additionally, high school students are taught about state and federal laws that provide access to sexual health care services for minors and protect them in unhealthy sexual situations.

“Before the Department of Education finalizes its standards, they do a statewide listening tour,” Barbiere shared “Parents had the opportunity to provide public comment on the proposed changes.”

According to Barbiere, the focus is on making sure students receive proper education as far as sexual health and wellness. Otherwise, parents run the risk of learning things the wrong way.

“Every child has a smart phone or some form of access to the internet,” Barbiere said. “They learn better in a classroom setting.”

 Parents can opt their children out of classes according to law. This requires submitting a signed statement to the student’s principal regarding any part of the instruction in health, family life education, or sex education that the parent believes is in conflict with his/her conscience or sincerely held moral or religious beliefs.

Students are excused from that portion of the course where such instruction is being given and no penalties as to credit or graduation shall result.