Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed SB 5395, a controversial bill that mandates all public schools teach “comprehensive sexual education” (CSE).
Inslee signed the bill March 28, over the objections of many parents and citizens in the state. Previously, school districts could offer CSE at their own discretion, but the new law takes that control out of the hands of parents and local school boards.
According to a Senate summary of the measure, “Every public school must provide comprehensive sexual health education to each student by the 2022-23 school year.” The mandate is phased in, beginning in 2021-2022, with students in grades 6-12 and extending to younger students the next year. The summary explains that CSE must be provided “no less than:
- Once to students in grades K-3;
- Once to students in grades 4-5;
- Twice to students in grades 6-8; and
- Twice to students in grades 9-12.”
The legislation says that CSE must be “medically and scientifically accurate” and “age appropriate.” It also requires teaching children about “affirmative consent” and giving them “bystander training.” SB 5395 defines “affirmative consent” as “a conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity as a requirement before sexual activity.” The law does not define “bystander training,” but the Washington State Wire wrote that “the term is generally acknowledged to be training in how to respond if someone witnessed an attack or assault.”
SB 5395 requires boards of school districts that don’t yet teach CSE to consult with parents and local communities as they select curriculum. Schools must notify parents that they will be providing sex ed and provide access to course materials. In addition, parents may opt their children out of instruction.
As the bill was moving through the legislature, parents, grandparents and citizens began seeing CSE curriculum that was approved by the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) and that was already being used in some schools. They were also concerned about some of the groups involved in producing the sex ed curriculum, such as Planned Parenthood, SEICUS and Advocates for Youth.
The International Planned Parenthood Federation, for example, has published a downloadable booklet titled, “Exclaim! Young People’s Guide to ‘Sexual Rights: An IPPF declaration.’” The group declares:
Young people are sexual beings. They have sexual needs, desires, fantasies and dreams. It is important for all young people around the world to be able to explore, experience and express their sexualities in healthy, positive, pleasurable and safe ways. This can only happen when young people’s sexual rights are guaranteed.
The document also states that these sexual rights are “Universal” and “Inalienable”:
Everyone is entitled to human rights simply for being human. Human rights cannot be taken away or given up from anyone, irrespective of their age, gender, ethnicity, race, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, disability, HIV status or health status.
IPPF says that “there is no universal age at which certain sexual rights and protections gain or lose importance.” But then the group adds:
All people under 18 years should enjoy the full range of human rights, including sexual rights. The importance and relevance of some rights change as a person transitions from infancy to childhood to adolescence. Therefore, the rights of children and youth must be approached in a progressive and dynamic way.
With groups like this developing curriculum that is already used in Washington schools, and with the inappropriate content they were seeing, parents began joining together and pushing back against the bill.
In February, more than 600 people testified at a public hearing against the legislation. In March – even with the growing threat of coronavirus and a state-wide ban on gatherings of more than 250 – thousands gathered at the state capitol to protest the bill’s passage by the Senate. Thousands more called and sent emails, petitions and letters to the governor urging a veto, but Inslee signed the bill anyway.
In 2019, the OSPI established a Sexual Health Education Workgroup to study questions related to sexual health education in the state. The group surveyed almost 10,000 people. One of the questions asked was “Should comprehensive, age-appropriate, medically accurate sexual health education be required for all students in grades K-12?” 58% of those surveyed said, “No,” while only 38% said, “yes.”
Still, the legislature and the governor overruled that clear message. Now, a variety of organizations, such as Informed Parents of Washington, Parents Rights in Education, Parents for Safe Schools and the Focus-affiliated Family Policy Institute of Washington are gathering signatures for a referendum to overturn SB 5395.
The groups have 90 days to qualify the measure and must gather more than 129,811 signatures – a task made much more difficult by the state’s COVID-19 lockdown and “social distancing.” Washington’s Secretary of State Kim Wyman said, “Despite the challenges our state is facing, I want to assure voters we will do everything in our power to mitigate barriers to the petition process that may arise.”
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