Voters will determine in November whether a comprehensive sex-education bill will be enacted into law.
To protect the health and safety of Washington’s public schoolchildren, voters should approve Referendum 90 and allow SB 5395 to stand.
The law requires public schools to provide age-appropriate, medically accurate comprehensive sexual-health education at certain points throughout the K-12 curriculum. The law was passed by split votes in both chambers of the Legislature and signed by Gov. Jay Inslee in March.
It has activated a corps of vocal opponents, which is understandable, given the subject’s sensitivity. But before casting a ballot, voters should be sure they understand what the law does — and does not — require.
The law would require relevant instruction six times over the course of K-12 education: at least once each to students in K-3 and in grades 4-5, twice each to students in grades 6-8 and grades 9-12.
In K-3, curricula must focus on social and emotional learning — there is no requirement that these students learn about sexuality or sexually explicit subjects. Lessons would progress in grades 4-12 to include subjects like human development, communication, healthy relationships, health care and prevention resources, outside influences on sexual relationships, recognizing and responding to sexual violence and affirmative consent.
School districts would choose the curriculum from an approved list, identify or create their own materials, provided they meet the law’s parameters. Any curriculum that is not preapproved must be reviewed by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to ensure it complies with the law.
Schools must notify parents and guardians and give them access to course materials so they know what children are learning. Parents can excuse their students from instruction if they wish to do so.
This will not represent a significant change for most school districts. At the same time, it will prompt the estimated 19-or-so districts around the state that don’t offer any sexual health education to make this important information available.
This is not an effort to sexualize children or impose any kind of state-sanctioned moral framework on Washington youth. It’s about ensuring that every public schoolchild has a clear understanding of their body, of healthy, consensual relationships and has the tools they need, when they’re likely to need them, to protect against unwanted physical contact, unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease.