Governor Murphy’s Battle for Education Reform Reaches Critical Stage

Governor Murphy's Battle for Education Reform Reaches Critical Stage | Future Education Magazine


The ongoing debate over “parental rights” in New Jersey’s education system is intensifying as Governor Murphy moves closer to replacing one of the most vocal critics of the state’s updated sex education standards and equity codes. The governor’s nomination of Claudine Keenan, the interim vice provost of Stockton University, has cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee and is poised for a full Senate vote this week. Keenan is set to replace Vice President Andy Mulvihill, a staunch advocate for “parental rights” on the board. Her nomination passed through the judiciary committee earlier this month without any Republican support.

Keenan and Murphy’s other nominee, Serena Rice, have been subjected to rigorous questioning about the role of parents in schools, the appropriate timing and manner of teaching gender identity, and strategies for racially integrating New Jersey’s schools. Advocacy groups promoting “parental rights” have mobilized their members to oppose Keenan and Rice’s nominations. Rice, a pastor at Abiding Peace Lutheran Church, is slated to replace Jack Fornaro, an ally of Mulvihill on many issues.

The confirmation of both nominees could be finalized by the full Senate as soon as Friday, marking the end of a protracted process. Rice’s nomination, which cleared the judiciary committee in March, has yet to be brought to a vote in recent Senate sessions.

“Save Andy” Campaign Gains Momentum

Supporters of Mulvihill, including New Jersey Parental Rights and similar groups, are rallying to “Save Andy” and maintain his position on the board. During a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting, representatives from New Jersey Parental Rights and the New Jersey Family Policy Center voiced their opposition to Keenan’s appointment, arguing that Mulvihill’s removal would be detrimental. Shawn Hyland, director of advocacy for the New Jersey Family Policy Center, suggested Keenan should replace another board member instead.

Mulvihill, who has served on the board for 12 years, has consistently opposed changes to the administrative code that promote equity over equality and has been critical of the new sex education standards that include topics such as gender identity and abortion. He believes Governor Murphy nominated replacements for him and other dissenting board members due to their resistance to these changes. Mulvihill asserts that “parental rights” mean parents should have a significant say in their child’s education and should be well-informed and involved in the decision-making process.

Governor Murphy Delivers the 2024 State of the State Address on January 9th, 2024.

Scrutiny and Support for Nominees

During her committee interview, Claudine Keenan was questioned by Sen. Mike Testa (R-Cumberland) about her stance on “parental rights” as defined by advocacy groups. Keenan emphasized her belief in the importance of parental involvement in education, sharing her personal experience as a parent in New Jersey public schools. When asked if her response was pre-prepared, Keenan admitted it was, noting the depth of thought she had given to the issue.

Keenan’s background as a former dean of education at Stockton University, where she prepared pre-service teachers, was highlighted as a significant advantage by the state’s largest teachers union, particularly in addressing the current teacher shortage. Rice, who also faced strong opposition during her committee interview, cleared the committee along party lines in March. She advocates for high-quality education for all children and draws on her experience as a mother of two, including one with an individualized education plan.

Rice’s social media activity, including posts featuring a mask and the progressive Pride flag, were scrutinized by some committee members, who deemed them “divisive” and indicative of leftist views. Republican lawmakers expressed concerns that these views might hinder her ability to represent a diverse constituency as a board member.

Despite the opposition, both Keenan and Rice have garnered substantial support from the New Jersey Education Association and Garden State Equality, a statewide LGBTQ+ advocacy group. These organizations are urging their members to contact lawmakers and advocate for the confirmation of both nominees, underscoring the broader support for Governor Murphy’s vision of educational reform in New Jersey.

Also Read: The US Education Secretary Is Thinking Of New Strategies To Reduce The Preference For Alumni Kids Getting Into Colleges

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