Washington voters to decide on sex ed in schools

Education

Opponents say individual school districts should decide what students are taught for sexual education

VANCOUVER, Wash. (KOIN) — Washington voters will decide whether comprehensive sex ed will be required at all public schools.

The Washington state legislature passed Senate Bill 5395 in March. The bill requires all public schools to provide comprehensive sexual health education for all students. Students can be excused at their parents’ request.

Opponents of the law gathered enough signatures to get the bill on the statewide ballot as Referendum 90. If approved, Referendum 90 would allow the bill to go into effect. But a vote to reject Referendum 90 is a vote to repeal the bill.

While many school districts across Washington already teach some form of sex ed, the Battle Ground School District voted to scrap its program almost exactly one year ago. Students there would only be taught about HIV and AIDS prevention.

Those who want to reject Referendum 90 say the law wrests control from local districts and prevents them from deciding independently what sex ed curriculum is taught to students.

Many parents have also taken issue with what’s in the state’s sex education curriculum, saying it’s not age-appropriate.

“We’re not talking about the basic tenants of reproductive health and STD prevention,” said Maia Espinoza, a candidate for state superintendent of public instruction in Washington. “This is something that parents perceive to be way above and beyond standard sex ed.”

“In the beginning, K-3, the law says it’s social emotional learning—how to keep your hands to yourself and how to talk to a safe adult if you feel like somebody’s bullying you or intimidating you. It starts to build those skills and then it’s just kind of traditional after that,” said Chris Reykdal, the incumbent superintendent of public instruction in Washington.

Those in favor of Referendum 90 say the law mandates the curriculum is age-appropriate and is focused on teaching younger kids about healthy relationships. They say a mandated sex-ed curriculum is necessary based on data that shows one in three girls and one in six boys are victims of sexual abuse, sexual assault or unwanted sexual touch by the time they graduate.

Reykdal took Espinoza to court for a statement she made in the voter’s pamphlet that is mailed to all registered voters in Washington. In her candidate statement, Espinoza wrote, “The incumbent ignored parents and educators by championing a policy that teaches sexual positions to 4th graders!” 

After being notified of this statement, Reykdal filed a petition in Thurston County Superior Court to keep Espinoza and the secretary of state from publishing this sentence in the voter’s guide. Court documents said Reykdal included a declaration saying he supported the new comprehensive sexual health education law, but had never advocated for teaching fourth graders sexual positions.

Espinoza responded that her statement was based on a handout in reference material for the curriculum, according to court documents. Thurston County Superior Court granted Reykdal’s petition and ordered the statement be removed from the pamphlet, but the Washington State Supreme Court reversed that decision saying, “Espinoza’s statement is not demonstrably false.” The court ruling said the statement is inflammatory but does not defame Reykdal. 

Read the full ruling

When KOIN 6 News asked Reykdal about information parents say is not age-appropriate he said, “Folks went out and grabbed a third-party book, a third party offer and what’s been very clear now through all of this process, is that book is not actually part of the curriculum. That book is not shown to students, it’s not even shown to parents actually, it’s a list of references that say parents if you want to work with your child further and talk about puberty or child development or reproduction, here’s a list of resources you may consider. We do that in every curriculum by the way, we have additional resources for parents if they want to work with their kid in math or social studies, so that’s really common.”

When we asked Espinoza about it she said, “Despite how many steps it takes to receive or retrieve that information, there’s no steps involved for the children, that puts that material in the hands of children. So, there’s no examples, of course, that I’ve talked about that are not affiliated with the curriculum that is approved under, you know, this administration and Chris Reykdal.” She went on to say, “No, this material is not in the curriculum that is put in front of the children, really curriculum is for the teachers. This is what the teachers reference and then teach to students. In those curricula, it’s telling the teachers to have the students go to these websites and, you know, take off the pop up blockers or the porn blockers on their phones, this is in the curriculum, this is not misinformation, although Reykdal, I think wishes it was.” 

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