A controversial bill to require Washington’s 295 school districts to teach comprehensive sexual health education in grades K-12 is on its way to Gov. Jay Inslee for his signature.
By a 27-21 vote on Saturday, the state Senate agreed with House amendments to SB 5395. The roll call followed a moving floor speech by Sen. Mona Das, D-Kent.
The bill would be phased in over two years, with the mandate to teach all students in grades six through 12 beginning with the 2021-2022 school year and to all students a year later.
Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, said the bill requires curriculum that is “age-appropriate” and will teach older students about affirmative consent — an explicit, informed and voluntary agreement to participate in a sexual act.
“Instead of constantly reacting to violence against women, we now actually will be in a position where we are preventing future victimization and preventing future violence,” she said.
Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-University Place, said he reviewed sex education material that the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction has approved for fifth-grade students. O’Ban said it was too explicit.
“Who will decide what is age-appropriate, where there is clearly going to be differences in opinion? Should that be a government-mandated decision from OSPI or should that be based upon the values of parents as reflected in their school boards and schools? We’ve always believed that the best government is the one that is local,” he said.
When Das stood to speak in favor of the bill, she said she had been largely silent on the sex education topic. “They say that you should speak up, even if your voice is shaking,” she added.
Das said male babysitters sexually abused her when she was 4 and 8 years old. At age 16, a relative tried to abuse her, she said.
“Remember, as I’ve told you over and over again, my family came here from India with $6. And I think people thought they could take advantage of my family in any way they chose to do that. I wish I had this education in school. I wish someone taught me about consent. I wish someone told me that ‘no meant no.’ I know that I am not alone.
“We have watched our friends and family members post on social media that they are survivors and they have ‘#MeToo’ stories. This is the first time I have chosen to publicly share mine and I will tell you what: I am not alone. My story sadly is not unique,” Das said.
Das said the bill would “have made a difference for this little girl.” She said she hoped it would change the the life of “just one little kid.”
Sen. Keith Wagoner, R-Sedro-Woolley, expressed his “sincere sympathy” to Das.
His voice cracking with emotion, Wagoner said: “I think I speak for everybody here that that shouldn’t happen to anybody and it is brave of her to say it to all of us.”
Wagoner voted to not approve the amendments made by the House, but he said he was not opposed to the bill “in totality.”
“I’ve always said what is important is how we implement it. If we respect the local control, if we respect our school boards and we respect the parents who vote our school boards to those positions, I’m fine with it. It may work great for some communities.
“To the age-appropriateness, I saw some of the same material that Senator O’Ban was speaking about. And I can tell you, if it was a photograph instead of a drawing it would be pornography,” Wagoner said.
— James Drew, The (Tacoma) News-Tribune