Washington schools to teach comprehensive sex education after referendum vote

Members of Informed Parents of Washington drop off signatures petitioning for a referendum against recent sex-ed legislation in Olympia, Washington earlier this year.
Members of Informed Parents of Washington drop off signatures petitioning for a referendum against recent sex-ed legislation in Olympia, Washington earlier this year. | Photo: Lynn Meagher

Voters in Washington state have approved a referendum upholding a bill that would require public schools across the state to teach comprehensive sexual health education to students multiple times throughout their K-12 education. 

Referendum 90 asked voters whether they wanted to repeal Senate Bill 5395, which was passed by the state legislature and signed by Gov. Jay Inslee earlier this year. 

The bill would require schools across the state to implement comprehensive sexual health education to students in grades six through 12 by the start of the 2021-22 school year and expand curriculums to kindergarten through fifth grade for the 2022-23 school year.

Opponents of the bill, including a group called Parents for Safe Schools, successfully gathered enough signatures to place Referendum 90 on the ballot for the November general election. 

While Parents for Safe Schools urged the residents of the Evergreen State to “stop the new, extreme curriculum,” nearly 59% of Washington voters voted to leave the bill in place.

According to Parents for Safe Schools, “materials to meet the new state standards will include graphic sexual subject matter taught at a very young age.” 

But as The Spokesman-Review reports, many school districts wouldn’t have to change all that much of their sexual education curriculums to be in line with the bill’s requirements and students will not be taught about sex before fourth grade. 

Supporters of the bill, including Planned Parenthood, maintain that the bill aims to give students across the state equal access to sexual education. However, critics say the bill doesn't grant enough local and parental control over what children will be taught about sex.

Maia Espinoza, who ran unsuccessfully for Washington’s superintendent for public instruction, spoke with talk radio host Todd Herman in September about some of the more controversial aspects of the sex-ed curriculum.

“This curriculum is really obsessed with confusing kids about their gender,” Herman said during the conversation. He shared content from the website of Informed Parents of Washington, which describes itself as a “political action committee for parental rights.”  

Espinoza pointed out that no parents were present on the Sexuality Education Curriculum Review Panel, which consisted of school district officials, health officials from notoriously liberal western Washington and an official from Planned Parenthood. 

She said that there were no representatives from more conservative eastern Washington districts. Espinoza added that one sex-ed curriculum framework has a section that teaches "sexual positions to fourth graders.”

“There is a book that shows people in different positions having sex recommended for fourth grade. They show children masturbating, showing them … the action, like a ‘how-to-masturbate’ for fourth grade,” she added.

Herman charged that “comprehensive sex education has a framework of ideas” that “kids are sexual beings from the day they’re born” and that “it is their right to pursue sexual pleasure and they have the right to consent to it at any age.”

Espinoza claimed that advocates of comprehensive sex education want to see it “incorporated into other subjects.”

Herman shared testimony from a retired police officer who spent much of his career investigating child sex crimes. 

The man expressed concern that “The mandated comprehensive sex education bill is nothing but a framework for grooming children to be victims of sexual abuse and an obscene assault on innocence.”  

The Informed Parents of Washington shared lesson plans from some of the sex-ed frameworks, highlighting the parts they took issue with. 

A lesson called “Understanding Our Bodies—The Basics,” designed for kindergarten students, teaches that “there are some body parts that mostly just girls have and some parts that mostly just boys have. Being a boy or a girl doesn’t mean you have those parts, but for most people, this is how their bodies are.” It also gives graphic descriptions of female genitalia.

A lesson plan for middle school students asserts the ideas that people can choose their sexual orientation and gender identity are myths. Informed Parents of Washington annotated a lesson plan for high school students called “Creating Condom Confidence,” stressing that “the condom lesson has students practicing putting condoms on either a banana or a penis model, talking about where a teen can get condoms, and going out to different locations to obtain condoms.”

That particular lesson plan contains a student worksheet titled “Steps to Putting on a Condom.”

The text of Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 5395 does not give details about the comprehensive sex-ed curriculum frameworks approved by the state. It defines “Comprehensive sexual health education” as “recurring instruction in human development and reproduction that is age-appropriate and inclusive of all students.”

Under the guidelines, students in kindergarten through third grade will be subject to “social-emotional learning that is consistent with learning standards and benchmarks adopted by the office of the superintendent of public instruction.”

The bill requires curriculum for students in grades four through 12 to include information about “the physiological, psychological and sociological developmental processes.” 

In addition to informing older students about “health care and prevention resources”, the curriculum teaches them about “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; and 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 bill has a provision enabling “any parent or legal guardian who wishes to have his or her child excused from any planned instruction in comprehensive sexual health education” to file a written request with school officials. It also enables parents to review the sex-ed curriculum of their children’s school upon providing a written request to school officials.

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