The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (DPI) has finally unveiled the first draft of proposed revisions to the state’s Healthful Living Standards, which encompass both Physical and Health Education.

The draft has been a long time coming. It was originally scheduled to be made public in August 2022, but the State Board of Education (SBE) then approved a six-month delay. During the February 2023 meeting — and during several meetings after that — DPI staff explained to the SBE that the standards writing team was still preparing the first version. At long last, DPI representatives presented the draft yesterday.

While a cursory review of the draft standards show they appear fairly innocuous, additional information and careful scrutiny is needed to determine the value and impact of the proposed standards.

Content standards represent “what students should know and be able to do” after completing each grade level or course. As the John Locke Foundation has previously observed, “In general, standards are grade- and subject-specific outlines of the content, concepts, and skills that state education officials expect all educators to cover during the academic year.” Districts and teachers must align their lessons with state standards, but they can choose the curriculum and instructional methods used to achieve the objectives prescribed in the standards.

The delay in releasing the initial draft of the Healthful Living Standards raised questions about the extent to which the standards would depart from biological truths about sex and promote instruction about transgenderism and gender identity to kids. A read-through of the proposed Health Standards reveals no specific mention or reference to sexual orientation or gender identity.

In places, the proposed standards promote the benefits of abstinence. For example, as part of the content on interpersonal communication and healthy relationships, seventh graders would be expected to “[e]xplain the physical, social and emotional benefits of choosing to delay sexual activity (abstinence) for young people” (p. 18). Explaining the various risks of underage sexual activity is laudable, but the standards undermine themselves in other places. Eighth graders, for example, would be asked to “[e]xplain how avoiding sexual activity (abstinence) is the most effective way to avoid pregnancy and STIs,” but they would also be tasked with evaluating the effectiveness of FDA-approved contraceptives (p. 21).

Although the draft standards seem to promote healthy behaviors overall, the devil is often in the details, and important questions remain.

During their presentation on Wednesday, DPI staff mentioned that the standards for both Physical and Health Education would incorporate elements of Social-Emotional Learning (SEL), possibly including instruction on the five core competencies promoted by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), one of SEL’s biggest proponents. This is problematic. SEL is often a vehicle to import the harmful tenets behind critical race theory and gender ideology into classrooms, and critics have raised the alarm about how SEL programs threaten students’ psychological development, violate their privacy, and aim to “mold children into the type of human being the government deems most useful to the economy, society, and the state.” A review of future drafts of the standards and associated supplemental materials will be required to determine the extent to which these ideas have been woven into them.

The DPI will solicit feedback on the draft standards from stakeholders and the public until September. At that point, a data review committee will review the comments and make recommendations, and a standards writing team will create a second draft.

Click here to view a copy of the initial standards for K-9 Physical Education and here for the Health Education standards.