The Washington House approved legislation requiring public schools to provide comprehensive sexual health education in all grades by the 2022-23 school year after a marathon debate that didn’t wrap up until after 2 a.m. today.
More than 200 amendments were proposed to Senate Bill 5395 before the House, after six hours of intense discussion, approved the legislation on a 56-40 party line vote.
The six House members from Clark County stuck to party lines, with Democrats Monica Stonier and Sharon Wylie supporting the bill and Republicans Paul Harris, Larry Hoff, Vicki Kraft and Brandon Vick voting against the bill.
Kraft, who has backed parents opposed to mandatory sex education in Battle Ground Public Schools, drafted 43 amendments, most of which were withdrawn. Her other two amendments were not adopted.
The News Tribune in Tacoma reported that the House debated and voted on 29 amendments, most of which were defeated by the Democratic majority on voice or roll call votes. House Speaker Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, ruled that the rest of the amendments were “dilatory,” or intended to delay a decision, and they were withdrawn.
Kraft expressed her concerns about the legislation in a video posted before the floor debate. She said the bill would open the door to adopting “horrible curriculum.”
“They contain content that most parents are not comfortable with and do not feel is age appropriate,” Kraft said in her message. “And many don’t feel that it is medically and scientific accurate, either.”
Current state law allows school districts to teach sex education, but there is no requirement to do so. Washington is one of 18 states that do not mandate sex education, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
SB 5395 would require age-appropriate, medically accurate sex education to be taught from kindergarten to 12th grade, although instruction would vary significantly depending on the grade.
It would not mandate any specific curriculum and would allow school districts to set their own curriculum, as long as it meets existing state standards.
The Senate approved the bill in the early days of the 2020 session, but it was substantially modified in the House Education Committee in an effort led by Stonier. If the Senate concurs with the House’s amendments before the Legislature adjourns March 12, the bill will be sent to Gov. Jay Inslee for his signature.
Democrats backed the legislation as a way to encourage healthy, consensual relationships, deter sexual violence and guard against sexual predators. The legislation includes an opt-out clause so parents can have their children excused from any portion or all of the sex education instruction. It also would require schools to notify parents when sex education will be taught and allow them to review the curriculum in advance.
“Parents and communities are critical partners in ensuring that our students are healthy and successful, which is why it is so important that this bill strengthens parental rights,” Stonier said in a statement released after the House vote. “Teaching students how to be good friends, how to say no to unwanted touches, and how to develop healthy, respectful relationships are all building blocks of public education.”
Republicans have consistently objected to the legislation because children in kindergarten and early grades would receive basic instruction. Current state standards include instruction for kindergartners on the fact that boys and girls have different body parts, that there are different ways of expressing gender and what is and is not appropriate touching. Republicans also argued the bill would take away too much authority from local school boards.
The 2016 health and physical education learning standards are on the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction’s website, www.k12.wa.us/sites/default/files/public/healthfitness/standards/hpe-standards.pdf. The sexual health standards begin on page 28.
Sex education has been a hotly contested issue in Battle Ground Public Schools. The district had spent more than a year drafting curriculum and tweaking policy around what to teach students before reversing itself, first eliminating a requirement that sex education be taught, except for fifth-grade lessons on puberty and human development. Then, in response to teachers who said they were having to strip lessons out of their curriculum, the board added an exemption for elective classes.
In January, the district approved an elective version of its high school health class that will include a sexual health education curriculum developed by the district as well as lessons on gender identity and sexual orientation, birth control methods (including abstinence), sexually transmitted diseases and consent.