Voters in Washington will get to decide whether to repeal a new law to implement controversial sex-ed programs in public schools statewide after residents gathered the requisite number of signatures to get the referendum on the November ballot.
Members of a group called Parents for Safe Schools delivered more than 266,000 signatures to the Washington secretary of state's office on Wednesday, two times the minimum number of signatures required, according to The Spokesman-Review. For a referendum to appear on the November ballot, 129,811 signatures had to be submitted by June 10. After the state's elections office verifies the authenticity of signatures on the petition, Referendum 90 will be added to the ballot.
Opponents of the sex-ed curriculum say that the materials and lessons feature sexually explicit content that's not age-appropriate.
Among the titles listed under the approved fourth-grade sex-ed resources is the book, It's Perfectly Normal, which features cartoon pictures of masturbation and sexual alongside explicit descriptions.
Lynn Meagher, a parent who's campaigning against the sex-ed programs, said in an email to The Christian Post that she was encouraged by the success of their petition drive. While many aspects of the contested sex-ed curriculum are already in use in Seattle area schools, she said, what the referendum is contesting is the bill's statewide mandate. She and other local activists are pushing for a subsequent move to change policy even further.
"It's only the mandate that will be stopped if we win in November. This is why we need the initiative, which is now going to follow the referendum. The initiative will make school boards accountable to parents for this education, and make sex ed an opt-in program, rather than the empty promises that parents can opt-out, which for practical purposes is almost impossible," she said.
"These [sex-ed] bills are being passed all over the country. As far as we know, this is the only state where parents have successfully fought back to stop the mandate. We are so grateful to God and to the people of this state."
Meagher added that it was moving to see a signature from a woman who was 100 years old.
"We could never have done this, aside from the grace of God and the hard work of the people of Washington," she reiterated.
The signature drive took place through a highly coordinated grassroots push during the state's strict lockdown orders during the coronavirus pandemic.
"This is a watershed moment," said Mindie Wirth, director of the signature drive, as the signatures were being delivered. "So many churches and so many organizations got behind this."
The Washington Catholic Conference, which backed the effort, permitted petitions to be dropped off in parking lots provided that signature gatherers followed public health guidelines, such as wearing masks and gloves and sanitizing items such as pens.
In March, Informed Parents of Washington — a parents' organization formed to resist the sex-ed bill — shared explicit content found on the Scarleteen website that was approved by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction for 10th-grade students. A post from the website features a question from a self-described "deviant" who said he wants his sex partners to experiment with extreme violence beyond choking and asks for advice on how to convince people to participate.
Despite the controversies surrounding the sex-ed programs, Democrat legislators have defended it, saying it's necessary to teach children about safe sex and safety measures.
"It's about teaching kids to recognize and avoid things … instead of being victimized," said Sen. Claire Wilson, D-Auburn, the bill's sponsor, during the floor debate.
The bill mandating the new sex-ed programs statewide passed by a party-line vote in both chambers and was signed by Democrat Gov. Jay Inslee.
After the bill passed in March, state House Republican leader J.T. Wilcox and Senate Republican leader Mark Schoesler announced that they were forming a committee called Parents for Safe Schools to rally parents to overturn it through a referendum at the ballot box.
After the bill was passed, Wilcox said: "I am a father and a grandfather. These are young children. The youngest are still learning to tie their shoes. The state is going to take away parental rights and force a curriculum that is not age-appropriate. That is outrageous. Nothing we do in Olympia is more important than protecting our kids. We will fight this with every tool at our disposal."