BARNEGAT, NJ – Earlier this year, Governor Philip Murphy signed off on Senate Bill 1569, a new law that requires public educators to include something new in the curriculum of middle school and high school students. However, Barnegat Mayor Alfonso “Al” Cirulli submits that forcing “instruction on the political, economic, and social contributions of persons with disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people” crosses over a line into absurdity.
Cirulli is a retired educator of 35 years, who agrees that all children need support and protection. Meanwhile, at the August committee meeting, the Barnegat mayor took time to speak on his opposition to the new curriculum. He prefaced what he called a report as his own comments and not reflective of the Barnegat Township Committee.
“As your Mayor and a member of this committee, it is my obligation to protect its residents and to keep them informed of laws and situations that will affect them,” he said. “I believe that the information I will bring out will have serious consequences for families.”
In making his presentation, Cirulli acknowledged that the Township Committee has no power to reverse the law. He expressed his hope that others would join his fight to force state representatives to repeal or make changes to the law.
According to Cirulli, polls have shown that 71% of adults are Christians, and approximately 2% are Jewish. These figures were used to support the mayor’s assertions that teaching the proposed curriculum might conflict with a great number of parents and their religious or spiritual beliefs.
“Some polls claim that an estimated 4.5% of adults and young people claim to be LGBTQ,” said Cirulli. He added, “There is no hate or bigotry intended here. Everyone has a right to live his or her life they want to.”
Cirulli clarified the meaning of LGBTQ to stand for "lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, and queer." Some say the "Q" actually stands for questioning.sexual identity. Senate Bill 1569 excludes the Q altogether.
“No group has a right to force others to comply with their beliefs or deprive them of their First Amendment rights and to strip the rights of parents on how to morally raise their children,” the Barnegat mayor asserted.
Parents Won’t Be Able to Opt Their Children Out of the Curriculum
Among Cirulli’s chief complaints is that students won’t be able to “opt-out” of the curriculum for any reason. Additionally, the Barnegat School District must comply with the state mandate due to take effect in most schools in the 2020-2021 school year.
Educators in private school, whether religious or not, are not required to follow the new law.
“This is what really upset me,” shared Cirulli. “The State is allowing the Garden State Equality Group, an LGBTQ rights organization to develop the model curriculum that schools will eventually be forced to use.”
“Whose business is it anyway?” asked the Barnegat mayor. He appeared frustrated and angry, while questioning what a person’s sexual preference had to do with anything.
Cirulli went on to call sexual preference a mindset and said that it should not be confused with racial and/or ethnic discrimination. “There is no comparison,” he proclaimed.
The Mayor continued, “State or federal government has no right to interfere with the religious upbringing or sexual indoctrination of alternative lifestyles concerning our children. Politicians have no right to promote the LGBTQ agenda with laws that are intended to destroy religious freedom.”
As part of the presentation, Cirulli presented historical facts regarding the evolution of laws related to the LGBTQ community in New Jersey and nationally. He expressed concerns, ““The rights of parents to make choices for their children on questions of sexuality or gender, including medical treatments would be superseded by federal civil rights codes.”
Cirulli’s report took on religious tones that some meeting attendees said made them feel like the Barnegat mayor was speaking from a pulpit. At one point, he called the LGBTQ political movement an “affront to almighty God with the intent of trying to completely eradicate God’s law.”
After citing several biblical references, Cirulli gave a foreboding warning that politicians, those who carry out improper edicts and voters would all be held accountable by God for their actions.
The Barnegat mayor ended his presentation with a call for all God-fearing people to organize. He said the future of the nation is at stake. When it comes to the pending curriculum changes, Cirulli explained his plans.
“We have less than one year to get this changed,” said Cirulli. “I will be initiating petitions, reaching out to our state legislators, as well as other mayors, faith-based groups and family counselors.”
Only One Other Committee Member Offered Commentary
Deputy Mayor John Novak was the only other member of the Township Committee to speak regarding the mandate regarding LGBTQ curriculum additions.
“I have three children who are all adults now, Novak said. “My wife and I wanted to have a “say so” in things they learned that had spiritual and/or religious connotations. We thought that was our place as parents.”
The Deputy Mayor voiced his opinion further, ““Parents have rights. If I want my child to learn about homosexuality, I will teach him. If I feel unqualified or feel uncomfortable doing it, I will find an appropriate person that I feel is appropriate to teach my child what I want my child to learn about the LGBTQ curriculum.”
Novak also expressed his concerns about parents not having the ability to opt-out the curriculum on their child’s behalf. He suggested that if opting out isn’t an option, the curriculum should be designed to tell all of LGBTQ history.
In citing biblical passages related to the issue, the Deputy Mayor said, “Don’t pick and choose what supports your agenda. Or, let the kids opt out of it.”
Attendees Expressed Different Reactions
When the meeting opened for public comment, Briget Nunn, a Barnegat resident and Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor, spoke first, “You mentioned making sure that the state wasn’t bringing in religion. This is a public forum in which I felt like we were in church. Everyone was condemned if they didn’t agree with your opinion.”
Nunn then went on to use a mathematical equation to make a point. She asked for the difference between 2+2=4 and 2+2=5. Deputy Mayor Novak played along and said that one made mathematical sense and the other didn’t.
“2+2=4 is a fact, said Nunn. “It’s empirically evident. 2+2=5 is a belief. You can have a belief, but that doesn’t make it correct. It just makes it your belief.”
As Nunn continued, she expressed her opinion that belief doesn’t belong in a public forum. She also said, ““Small-minded people judge from a belief system instead of a fact-based system.”
In her role of a counselor, Nunn has worked with several transgender adolescents. “I know the painstaking struggles that they and their family go through," she shared, “That’s a fact.”
Nunn continued with what she referred to as a second fact. “If we have early intervention with youth, we can prevent long term trauma exposure. Specifically, those at greater risk, such as the transgender population and LGBTQ community, are at greater risk because there is bias and there is feeling.”
Cirulli clarified that his statement did not mean he didn’t support the protection of all children. Instead, he wanted to ensure that parents have the right to determine what their children are exposed to as part of the curriculum.
“I understand that everyone is entitled to belief and religious ideas, and I would not judge you for them, said Nunn. “What I have a problem with is when you bring them into a public forum and condemn anyone that doesn’t agree with them.”
The mental health counselor called upon public officials to be careful about sending a message to kids she already counsels from the Barnegat schools who are feeling alone and isolated and not getting the support they need.
“You can have religious convictions and you can also have empathy and compassion,” Nunn said, “When we teach our children to be inclusive and to understand the difference, they become better human beings.”
In response to Nunn’s assertions, Novak asked what he as a parent should do if the school taught kids that alcohol, drugs, or violence were a way to deal with the frustrations of life.
Nunn answered, “You are comparing people living authentically as who they are as to someone who is doing drugs or something else nefarious.”
Board of Education Candidate Asked Questions
Barnegat Board of Education candidate George Fedorczyk, Jr. suggested that the outrage was premature, particularly if the curriculum would entail merely a history of the accomplishments of a group of people.
Fedorczyk also compared the struggles faced by the LGBTQ community to people of color who face discrimination.
After Barnegat Superintendent of Schools Brian Latwis confirmed that no curriculum has been established, Fedorczyk said, “I agree that I don’t need the school system or the government to teach my child how to be gay. But, historically, the accomplishments, I have no issues.”
“I learned history about Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks,” Fedorczyk continued, “ I have yet to turn black. I learned history about Gloria Steinem. I have yet to turn into a feminist.”
Meanwhile, Cirulli repeated his assertions, “The government has no right to teach our children morality, as far as sexual diversity.”
Dwight McBee, a father of two children in the Barnegat School district, compared Cirulli’s statement as equivalent to information provided by Committeewoman Kropf on another issue under consideration by the state legislature.
McBee said, “I am appalled at the fact that all of these laws are changing that would have broad changing impact on people like me who truly practice my faith and have not been given the option to “opt-out” of this new curriculum. I feel strongly that you have used this platform to increase this awareness.”
As far as the issue of discrimination, McBee shared, ““I am African American. I know what it’s like to be discriminated against," he said. "I have a special needs daughter. I know what it’s like in her life to be discriminated against, as well. This issue is completely different."
Two Barnegat religious leaders were among those who attended the meeting. Glenn Swank of the Barnegat Bay Assembly of God was grateful that Cirulli provided him with information regarding the changes to the proposed curriculum.
“I don’t see how a non-profit organization such as Garden State Equality can have so much power in pushing their agenda,” said Swank. ““It also seems as if this is a bullying-related mandate.”
Joshuwa Armstrong of Mt. Zion Baptist Church shared his concerns on what he considers an overreach by the government, “The school system should be empowering parents to be parents," he said. “Parents needs to address bullying issues and things like this at home.”
Barnegat Superintendent Shares Information
According to Dr. Brian Latwis, School Superintendent, Barnegat has not yet developed a curriculum in response to the mandate that doesn’t go into effect until the next school year.
Twelve school districts throughout the state are in the process of infusing contributions of LGBTQ members into their curriculums. Once they’re done piloting the programs, they’ll be surveyed at the end of the year.
In response to questions regarding changes in Barnegat, Latwis, said, “As the Superintendent of Barnegat Schools, I am charged with ensuring the students of this district are provided a complete, thorough, rigorous, relevant, and inclusive educational program.”
He continued, “Each year the state makes adjustments to the curriculum, the standards, new programs are rolled out, etc, and as a school district we will comply with those guidelines.”