Assembly passes diversity and inclusion bill. Heads to Gov. Murphy for approval

The New Jersey Assembly approved a bill that requires schools to include diversity and inclusion learning for kindergarten through 12th grade starting with the 2021-2022 school year. 

Bill A4454 is headed to Gov. Phil Murphy to sign. If he signs it, school districts will need to incorporate lessons that highlight and promote economic diversity equity, inclusion, tolerance and belonging in connection with gender and sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, disabilities, religious tolerance and unconscious bias. 

A supporter of the bill in its previous form, Assemblyman Brian Bergen (R-Morris) said he's against teaching young children about gender preferences and sexual identity. 

"When I stood up for this bill previously it applied to very specific requirements that needed to be taught that were age-appropriate for 9 through 12th-grade students," said Bergen on Monday. "My son is 8 years old. He believes in Santa Claus and believes leprechauns come on St. Paddy's Day. There is a certain level of naivete that our children enjoy and we should really protect that."

Originally introduced last July, the bill only applied to students in grades 9 through 12 as part of the district’s implementation of the New Jersey Student Learning Standards in Comprehensive Health and Physical Education. 

"If we as parents want to explain different gender identities or sexual preferences, that's our prerogative and our choice," Bergen added. "This is not a decision for the school system and this is not a decision for the Legislature." 

Assemblyman Gerry Scharfenberger (R-Monmouth) also opposed the bill, calling it unnecessary for young children.

"Schools are supposed to assure knowledge where skill sets are passed on to students to move them to college or perhaps a trade," Scharfenberger said. "Many constituents of mine have reached out to me appalled that children in kindergarten will have to process being taught about gender and identity and other concepts that even many adults struggle to understand."

In 2019, New Jersey passed a law to teach LGBTQ history to middle and high school students, becoming the second state after California to adopt the law. Currently, the law "does not contain an opt-out provision."  

The bill is sponsored by Assembly Democrats Carol Murphy (D-Burlington), Verlina Reynolds-Jackson (D-Mercer, Hunterdon) and Anthony Verrelli (D-Mercer, Hunterdon). 

"In health and physical education classes, students are taught to respect their individual and cultural differences to build healthy relationships both in and out of the classroom," read a statement from the bill's sponsors. "The natural next step is to promote diversity, tolerance and respect for all. These are values students will take with them long after they graduate.”