Washington voters will decide Nov. 3 whether the controversial sex education bill that passed the legislature in March will go into effect or be eliminated.
At the start of the statewide shutdown to mitigate COVID-19, the state legislature passed Senate Bill 5395, which requires all public schools to provide comprehensive sex ed for all grades by 2022-2023.
Opponents gathered enough signatures to sponsor Referendum 90 to try to reject the legislation.
By voting yes on R-90, voters would be approving the curriculum; a reject vote would prevent the curriculum.
State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction outlined on its website what a comprehensive sex ed curriculum could look like for all grades, but notes that the specifics are up to each individual school district.
“In grades K-3, instruction must be in Social-Emotional Learning – learning skills to do things like manage feelings, set goals and get along with others. There is no sexuality content required for students in grades K-3,” according to the OSPI.
Grades 4-12 must also include the following:
• The physiological, psychological, and sociological developmental process experienced by an individual;
• The development of intrapersonal and interpersonal skills to communicate, respectfully and effective, to reduce health risks and choose healthy behaviors and relationships based on mutual respect and affection, and free from violence, coercion and intimidation;
• Health care and prevention resources;
• Abstinence and other methods of preventing unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases;
• The development of meaningful relationships and avoidance of exploitative relationships;
• Understanding the influences of family, peers, community and the media throughout life on healthy sexual relationships;
• Affirmative consent and recognizing and responding safely and effectively when violence or a risk of violence is or may be present, with strategies that include bystander training.”
The curriculum would be phased in over time, beginning in the 2021-22 school year with grades 6-12 and in 2022-23 with grades K-5. Like most sex ed or health classes, parents have their students opt out.
SB5395 is sponsored predominately by Democrats, including Sen. Christine Rolfes and Rep. Drew Hansen for Legislative District 23, Kitsap County.
Rolfes noted that even before SB5395, Washington state required age-appropriate and culturally appropriate, medically accurate sex ed.
“The bill adds strong parent opt-out provisions and specifies that the K-3 curriculum must be social-emotional learning (as opposed to what people think of when they think of sex education).
“The bill continues to allow school districts to select their curriculums so that the discussion about what children will learn is made by local school boards, but no longer permits school districts to opt-out of offering sex education instruction.
“Importantly, it also requires that curriculum in the upper grades include information about ‘consent’ and what constitutes ‘assault’,” Rolfes said.
All school districts in District 23 have adopted sex ed curriculums. If R-90 is approved, it will just add the K-3 piece about social emotional learning and consentand bystander training for older grades.
The North Kitsap School District delivers a unit on Human Growth and Development to its fifth graders, using OSPI recommended and district approved materials.
”We also teach units related to sexual health in our middle school and high school health classes, again using OSPI recommended materials and the district adopted text,”said Jenn Markarayn, NKSD Community Relations coordinator. “For all of these lessons, parents are made aware in advance of teaching, materials are available for viewing, and all requests for opt-outs are honored.”
The topic of sex ed has always carried controversy with it, this one in particular as it includes all grades rather than just 5-12.
“The bill is controversial because not everyone agrees on how, whether and when kids should be taught about human reproduction. Some of the opponents of the bill have sent around sexually explicit illustrations purporting to be what small children will be taught, much of which is not true,” Rolfes said.
Voters can see the list of approved curriculum on the OSPI website.
Hansen noted that he has kids in school and voted in favor of SB5395.
“The bill allows parents to opt their kids out—it requires school districts to notify parents and give them a link to the sexual health curriculum; if parents don’t want their kids to be taught this material then they just tell the school, and the bill requires the school to excuse the kid,” he said.
He also encouraged concerned parents to reach out to local school districts to have a hand in helping them choose the kind of curriculum around sex education they would like to have.
“Each school district gets to choose what kind of sexual health curriculum they offer, within the general guidelines set by statute and at the state level,” he said.
“So if someone wants to have a voice in which curriculum their schools teach then they can take that up at the local school board level and make sure their voice is heard.”