Washington state parent groups collected more than 264,000 signatures to place a referendum on the ballot to repeal “Comprehensive Sexuality Education” (CSE) legislation that was signed into law earlier this year.
That’s more than double the 130,000 they needed to place Referendum 90 on the November ballot. And they accomplished this feat despite a COVID-19 quarantine and weeks of demonstrations and rioting in their state. 23,967 petition sheets were delivered to the secretary of state’s office for the signatures to be verified.
A “no” vote on the referendum would repeal Senate Bill 5395, which Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed despite protests and thousands of emails and phone calls objecting to the legislation. The legislation mandated CSE for public school children from kindergarten through 12th grade.
Organizations working together to gather signatures included the Family Policy Institute of Washington, Informed Parents of Washington, Students for Life, Parents’ Rights in Education and Parents for Safe Schools. Given the coronavirus lockdown, with stay-at-home orders and restrictions on gatherings, they had to be creative about gathering petitions.
The groups used only volunteers, with no paid signature gatherers. They hosted daily drive-thru signings – with gloves, masks and physical distancing – at church parking lots throughout the state. Individuals set out coffee tables with petitions on their driveways or front porches – with wipes for sanitizing pens after each signing.
SB 5395 was heavily supported by groups like the ACLU of Washington, NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, the Gender Justice League, and Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii.
Parents and other concerned citizens were unhappy with the bill mandating CSE for a number of reasons. Many of them want more local and parental control, rather than state mandates. Parents were upset that CSE typically emphasizes “sexual expression, sexual fulfillment and sexual pleasure,” a philosophy of sexuality that is in opposition to traditional values and is a huge departure from teaching about reproduction.
Parents groups note that Washington state schools were failing in many fundamental areas. A 2019 report, for example, showed that only 48.9% of students met state math standards, with 59.6% of students meeting English and language arts standards. Given that poor track record, they wonder why the legislature placed such a heavy emphasis on sexuality education.
Bishop Daniel Mueggenborg, from the Archdiocese of Seattle, pointed to the law’s requirement that children be taught “affirmative consent” – that they must give “conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity as a requirement before sexual activity.” One legislator asked, “What’s affirmative consent when you’re a kindergartner?”
Informed Parents of Washington has examined some of the state-approved curricula and says, “We are not against sexual education, but we are absolutely against the inappropriate, pleasure-based components within CSE that we feel harm our children.”
The group argues: “Elementary age children do not need to learn about masturbation. Teens should not be told that the pull-out method is more effective than they think. Kids should not be taught that sexting is as innocent as watching a movie together, and schools should not be suggesting co-bathing as an alternative [to sexual intercourse].”
With the signatures scanned and tallied at the secretary of state’s office, the group says it has volunteers overseeing the verification process. With certification of Referendum 90 likely, a November vote to defeat CSE is less certain, especially with groups like Planned Parenthood and the ACLU spending money on the campaign.
But given their record-breaking effort to place the initiative on the ballot, these parents and concerned citizens will continue working hard to restore parent’s rights in education and protect children.
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