Washington public schools will begin phasing in comprehensive sexual health education next school year after voters approved a referendum Tuesday that mandates the lessons.

Referendum 90 earned support from nearly 60% of voters as of Wednesday morning, and as a result, a 2020 law requiring lessons in grades K-12 will soon go into effect. The referendum garnered overwhelming support from King County voters and picked up a narrow lead in several other Western Washington counties. With the exception of Walla Walla and Whitman counties, voters on the eastern side of Washington largely rejected it.

Under the law, schools will be required to teach sex education to students in grades 4 to 12 starting in the 2021-22 school year. By the 2022-23 school year, schools will teach students beginning in kindergarten. School district boards will need to begin consulting with families and their local communities about proposed curricula this school year. Young children will not learn about sex, but will learn social-emotional skills such as how to form friendships.

Families have the option to opt out by sending a written request to their school principal or district leadership. 

The referendum emerged as the dominant issue dividing incumbent state school superintendent Chris Reykdal, who backed it, and opponent Maia Espinoza, who staked her campaign in fervent opposition to the measure. Reykdal won the nonpartisan superintendent’s race Tuesday.

Early Wednesday morning, the opposition campaign’s leader declined to acknowledge the outcome. But by Wednesday afternoon, campaign chair Mindie Wirth conceded the race. “While there are still many votes to be counted, it looks like we will not be successful,” she said in a statement. “Nevertheless, I know that this powerful coalition will continue to hold Olympia accountable in the future.”