The Nebraska Department of Education (NDE) lied to parents when it claimed no outside activist groups helped draft controversial sex education guidelines, according to internal documents obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.
A Nebraska Board of Education official successfully lobbied to appoint Friends of Planned Parenthood board member Lisa Schulze to work on the 28-member advisory team that assisted in shaping the curriculum. Schulze is deeply connected to advocacy groups that stood to benefit from the agency's initial statewide sex-ed curriculum, which included lesson plans on transgender hormone therapy for kids as young as 10 years old. Schulze's job at the Women's Fund of Omaha, which has doled out more than $8 million to Planned Parenthood and local transgender clinics, was seen as a qualification, rather than a conflict of interest, to draft education policies for the state's nearly 360,000 students.
"I want to make sure that Lisa Schulze is selected to help write the NDE Health Standards," Deborah Neary, a state board of education member, wrote in an email to an agency employee. The agency rejected Schulze's bid for the writing team but attached her to a 28-member advisory board. In March, the agency released standards that would have mandated that students would be taught about gender identity in 1st grade, transgender hormone therapy in 5th grade, transgenderism and sexual orientation in 6th grade, oral and anal sex in 7th grade, and "reproductive care"—a common euphemism for abortion—in 8th grade.
Officials rejected that draft following public outcry and criticism from Gov. Pete Ricketts (R., Neb.), but NDE pushed back against the notion the standards were shaped by outsiders. In a May fact sheet, titled "Points of Clarification," NDE insisted the curriculum "was not written by activists" and that "Planned Parenthood is not funding or helping to write the Nebraska Health Education Standards." Internal communications, obtained by the Free Beacon from a concerned parent, paint a very different picture. Emails and text messages from elected board of education representatives, NDE employees, and advisory board members show that activists were not only closely involved but disparaged parents and froze out teachers who were supposed to write the curriculum.
NDE is now minimizing the role of the advisory board. "The individuals being identified as ‘activists' were not members of the writing team, nor did they have an opportunity to write any of the standards," a spokesman said in an email. "Subject matter experts had an opportunity to provide input on the proposed content as the advisory team, but that input was provided to the writing team."
At least one member of the writing team said she had no prior knowledge of the standards that the agency later attributed to it, according to internal documents. Middle school physical education teacher Kayla Makovicka emailed the NDE to voice concerns that her team was not made aware of it, nor did she feel it was age-appropriate. "I don’t recall ever talking about these in any of our meetings or getting a clear look at what was going to be involved," she said in a March email, noting she did not think the curriculum was "age appropriate." Makovicka told the Free Beacon in an email she felt "blindsided" by NDE's standards, as well as the agency's attempt to blame the writing team for its contents.
"It is pretty clear what are my thoughts in that email, and I still stand by those today," she said. "As for the relationship between some of the parties involved, it [led] me to feel blindsided."
The original draft of the curriculum was nearly identical to the 2020 National Sex Education Standards, which was written by three deep-pocketed progressive advocacy groups: the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), Advocates for Youth, and Answer. Makovicka may have felt left in the dark, but Schulze and Neary—neither of whom returned requests for comment—remained in close contact throughout the process and helped arrange meetings between activists and NDE staffers. Emails show Neary scheduled a meeting between NDE members and SIECUS. Schulze also made sure to run the curriculum and NDE talking points by unnamed national activists before publication.
"I have Natl experts ready to review them," Schulze texted Neary. "Our creative director is driving to office to finish final edits on the fact sheet and we have talking points prepared that can go to the board. High level. Will have it to you in the next few hours."
Schulze spent 15 years working for Planned Parenthood before joining the Women's Fund of Omaha, a nonprofit that provides millions of dollars in annual grants to feminist groups, which they claim include "transgender and gender expansive people." The organization was founded in 1990 through a joint grant from two of the largest global charities: the Ford Foundation and MacArthur Foundation—both of which fund abortion and LGBTQ+ advocacy groups. It has given nearly $4 million to Planned Parenthood and nearly $5 million to a clinic specializing in transgender hormone therapy.
Parents and officials were shocked when NDE debuted its proposal in the spring. Ricketts led the effort to torpedo the curriculum through a series of town halls. He said the emails revealed in the FOIA only confirmed his suspicions that education bureaucrats placed special interests above those of students and parents.
"These advocacy groups definitely have an agenda they are pushing—and it is one that sexualizes children," Ricketts told the Free Beacon. "This was never about the parents—it was about the advocates."
Neary complained in a series of emails that parents promoted "hate speech" in their criticisms. She asked NDE members to consider ways to ensure parental feedback had less influence on the standards drafting process. "I am very disappointed that [two members of the NDE] see this as a ‘both sides’ need to be presented," Neary emailed an employee of the Women’s Fund of Omaha. "It is irresponsible in my opinion when one of the sides is based in science and fact and the other is based in religion."
The drafting body may have favored activist input at the outset, but it backtracked in the face of public criticism. NDE released a second draft of the health standards in July that dropped specific mentions of transgenderism, hormone therapy, reproductive care, and oral and anal sex, but retained language about gender identity. Those edits were not enough to satisfy concerned parents who flooded school board meetings throughout the summer.
In September, the board of education voted 5-1—with Neary abstaining—to suspend the health standard approval process, saying COVID-19 was to blame. Joni Albrecht, a Republican state senator in Nebraska, said parents know better than to accept that explanation.
"They, the activists on the other side, are so darn mad they cannot stop us from protecting the culture in Nebraska," Albrecht told the Free Beacon. "We are going to protect the children. We are going to let the parents know this is happening."