Poll: Most N.J. adults favor sex education in middle and high schools

Empty Hallway in a Public School

(bobelias/BigStock)

Most adults in New Jersey are OK with schools teaching health and sex education to middle and high school students, according to a new poll.

The Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University released results from a survey conducted between Aug. 30 and Sept. 8.

According to the poll, 71% of New Jerseyans favor students learning health and sex education in middle school, and 88% are fine with students learning about the subjects in high school.

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However, there is less consensus over elementary schools teaching health and sex education, with 46% of New Jerseyans in favor of the idea and 51% against it.

“This issue has obviously become a flashpoint as we get towards the midterms. But really, in these numbers, we see that those who are the most vocal in New Jersey are not necessarily reflecting the majority of residents or even parents’ views,” said Ashley Koning, executive director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling.

Koning noted that her organization mostly asked survey participants closed-ended questions over the phone, so there isn’t much feedback on why people responded how they did.

“We asked about whether they favor or oppose teaching sex education classes in elementary school, middle school, and in high school,” Koning said. “We asked about standardization of the curriculum across New Jersey versus districts creating their own curriculum. And we asked about parental choice — the ability for parents to opt their child out of these classes.”

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She also said that questions about support for “age-appropriate” material didn’t seem to sway people in responses.

“A lot of public opinion polling is up to the interpretation of the respondent and what’s at the top of their mind when we asked them about it,” Koning said.

The poll results come as new statewide sex education guidelines introducing gender identity into curriculums have made national headlines and as requirements for LGBTQ-inclusive lessons still face hurdles in the state.

Gov. Phil Murphy has defended the teachings several times this year.

In April, the New Jersey Department of Education released documents clarifying its role in implementing the curriculum. The department also hinted at consequences for school districts that disregard state mandates on health and sex education, according to a Gothamist report published on Tuesday.

Some Republicans who oppose the state’s guidelines have latched onto the issue to mobilize voters ahead of November’s midterm elections.

“The Murphy administration is weaponizing the Department of Education to punish parents and local school communities who only want their children’s curriculum to be age-appropriate,” said Sen. Kristin Corrado (R-Passaic), in a Facebook post Wednesday. “The thinly veiled threat from the NJDOE is that elected school board members will be removed from their positions for listening to parents and not implementing disturbing sex education mandates issued by the unelected State Board of Education. That’s not how democracy is supposed to work.”

The poll found that support for health and sex education was split along party lines, with a majority of Democrats in favor of it and a majority of Republicans and Independents opposed.

“We always hope that public opinion will be part of public discourse, and should be used as a mechanism to connect the public to its policymakers,” Koning said.

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