After passing the state legislature, Governor Jay Inslee signed into law a comprehensive bill that would require all K-12 schools across Washington to teach sexual education to their students. Since the passing of the bill in late March, there has been a strong response across Washington that has resulted in a movement to repeal the new law.
About SB 5395
The bill states all schools in Washington will be mandated to implement comprehensive sexual health education, starting in the 2022-2023 school year.
Controversial Senate Bill 5395 has been met with intense opposition from Republican Party members in Olympia, but also with parents and educators all over the state. This has included protests in front of the state capital to repeal the bill, and even demonstrations near area school districts in Spokane.
Opponents of the bill are concerned about teaching state mandated sexual education to children at such a young age. There are fears that explicit sexual education will promote sexual activity at a younger age.
Endorsers of the bill state that age appropriate lessons will be taught, and grades K-3 will not be taught anything about sexual reproduction. Supporters also state that important subjects such as consent and sexually transmitted diseases will be taught. This is strongly believed by supporters to improve health outcomes for youth.
Plan For Local Schools
Riverside School District Superintendent Ken Russell states in an interview:
“We haven’t been able to focus on the new bill. We have people come to us really worried about the graphic nature of [what is] being taught. We represent a variety of viewpoints, it is a mixed bag but I feel a majority do not want the bill. We plan on meeting the law; however, we will have a reasonable and minimalist approach. We are not going to get intense”.
While in tune with the community’s response to the bill, Russell
and other local educators are responding to the unprecedented crisis resulting from COVID-19. Many local schools have been utilizing their resources maintaining implemented programs to feed area students and bridge the economic and social gaps caused by the recent shutting down.
Before the bill was introduced, Mary Walker School District already implemented their own sexual education program that begins at grade 9. Many area schools already provide sexual education to some extent. For example, Riverside School District reported having their own sexual education program implemented long before the bill.
A 2019 survey conducted by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) in collaboration with the Department of Health (DOH) found that of 285 K-12 school districts across Washington, 93% responded already having some type of sexual education implemented. Over 64% already teach some type of sexual education between grades K-5.
Even though the bill implements the right for parents to opt out of the sexual education curriculum, parents are worried about how peer influence will affect their own children. Some parents and opposition groups are even publicly considering alternatives such as joining the growing homeschooling movement.
In response to the growing movement to repeal the sex education bill, an opposing group to the bill claimed to have reached over 250,000 signatures. As of June 24th the Secretary of State determined that advocates had submitted enough valid signatures for the measure to be certified to qualify for the ballot, 129,811 valid signatures were required.
This allows Referendum 90 to be on the November 3rd ballots, and would give voters in Washington the ability to repeal or approve the bill. In addition Superintendent of Public Instruction, Chris Reykdal sent out a bulletin to schools in which he states, “This bulletin provides notice to school districts that implementation of Senate Bill 5395 (2020) Session Law, concerning comprehensive sexual health education, is suspended pending the results of Referendum 90 in the 2020 General Election.”