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March 03, 2021

New law requires N.J. school districts to teach diversity and inclusion classes

Coursework will address topics such as gender and sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, disabilities and religious tolerance

Education Classes
New Jersey public schools NeONBRAND/Unsplash

The goal of the diversity and inclusion classes is to encourage inclusive environments for all New Jersey public school students, the law's primary sponsors said.

Beginning next academic year, all New Jersey public school students will learn about topics such as gender and sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, disabilities and religious tolerance.

The coursework, which will start in the fall for all students in kindergarten through 12th grades, will also examine the impact that unconscious bias and economic disparities have at individual and societal levels.

These diversity and inclusion classes, which are now mandatory under a new law signed by Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday, will promote economic diversity, equity, inclusion, tolerance and belonging.

The New Jersey Department of Education will provide school districts with sample lesson plans and resources designed to promote diversity and inclusion in the classroom. The goal is to encourage welcoming environments for all public school students regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual and gender identities, mental and physical disabilities and religious belief, according to the legislation

Diversity and inclusion courses must be incorporated as part of a public school districts' implementation of the New Jersey Student Learning Standards, a set of statewide guidances on classroom instruction, which is refreshed every five years by the state education department.

These guidelines, which were most recently reviewed and revised last year, provide school districts with benchmarks for students to reach in nine subject areas: 21st century life and careers, comprehensive health and physical education, English language arts, math, science, social studies, technology, visual and performing arts and world languages.

Diversity and inclusion classes will be added on as an update to the comprehensive health and physical education subject area. Last year's update revised the guidelines to address climate change in all nine subject areas, increased computer programming coursework and expanded opportunities in both science and visual and performing arts.

The legislation passed both houses of the state legislature last year with bipartisan support. The three original sponsors of the bill were Assemblywoman Carol Murphy (D-Burlington), Assemblywoman Verlina Reynolds-Jackson (D-Hunterdon/Mercer) and Assemblyman Anthony Verrelli (D-Hunterdon/Mercer).

"Schools in New Jersey reflect the rich diversity of our state," the three state lawmakers wrote in a statement. "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. 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." 

Last week, Cherry Hill Public Schools became the first New Jersey school system to require its high school students to take an African American history course in order to graduate.

The change was made in response to a group of student activists who pushed officials to provide a more comprehensive curriculum. The new course will be taken by freshmen and sophomores beginning in the fall. 

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