Governor Inslee speaks to young people at the Washington State Capitol on January 20th, 2020 (Photo: Office of the Governor)

Leg­is­la­tion that would require med­ical­ly accu­rate, com­pre­hen­sive sex­u­al health edu­ca­tion to be taught in Wash­ing­ton’s pub­lic schools was revived today in the state Sen­ate, which vot­ed along par­ty lines to re-adopt Claire Wilson’s SB 5395 and return it to the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives for fur­ther consideration.

Request­ed by State Super­in­ten­dent of Pub­lic Instruc­tion Chris Reyk­dal, the bill is intend­ed to help young peo­ple at many dif­fer­ent stages of child­hood and young adult­hood make bet­ter deci­sions about their health and their future.

The bil­l’s main pro­vi­sions, as sum­ma­rized by the staff of the Sen­ate Demo­c­ra­t­ic cau­cus (whose mem­bers sup­plied all of the votes for the bill), are as follows:

  • Expand com­pre­hen­sive sex­u­al health edu­ca­tion cur­ricu­lum to all grade 6–12 schools across the state, phased in over sev­er­al years;
  • Phase in age-appro­pri­ate cur­ricu­lum for K‑5 grades; and
  • Allow par­ents to exempt chil­dren from sex­u­al health edu­ca­tion class­es on request.

The roll call was as follows:

Roll Call
SB 5395
Sex­u­al health education
3rd Read­ing & Final Passage

Yeas: 28; Nays: 21

Vot­ing Yea: Sen­a­tors Bil­lig, Car­lyle, Cleve­land, Con­way, Darneille, Das, Dhin­gra, Frockt, Hasegawa, Hobbs, Hunt, Keis­er, Kud­er­er, Liias, Lovelett, McCoy, Mul­let, Nguyen, Ped­er­sen, Ran­dall, Rolfes, Sal­daña, Salomon, Stan­ford, Takko, Van De Wege, Well­man, Wil­son (Claire)

Vot­ing Nay: Sen­a­tors Beck­er, Braun, Brown, Erick­sen, For­tu­na­to, Hawkins, Holy, Hon­ey­ford, King, Muz­za­ll, O‘Ban, Pad­den, Rivers, Schoesler, Shel­don, Short, Wag­oner, Walsh, War­nick, Wil­son (Lyn­da), Zeiger

“Some peo­ple hear the words ‘sex edu­ca­tion’ and mis­take the focus of the cur­ricu­lum, which is health and safe­ty, and is age-appro­pri­ate for each grade lev­el,” said Wil­son in a state­ment fol­low­ing the bil­l’s pas­sage. Wil­son serves as the vice chair of the Sen­ate Ear­ly Learn­ing and K‑12 Edu­ca­tion Committee.

“This is about mak­ing sure younger chil­dren know what kind of touch­ing is inap­pro­pri­ate, whether by peers or preda­tors,” Wil­son added.

“It’s about help­ing old­er stu­dents rec­og­nize and resist abu­sive or coer­cive behav­ior. It’s about teach­ing all chil­dren to respect diver­si­ty and not to bul­ly others.”

“Stu­dents need a safe place to ask ques­tions, to ful­ly under­stand con­sent, and to have the infor­ma­tion they need to make safe deci­sions,” Wil­son emphasized.

“There are chil­dren who will be tar­get­ed for molesta­tion in the com­ing year. There are young women who may face sex­u­al coer­cion or assault. They need access to infor­ma­tion and lessons that will enable them to make deci­sions to ensure their health and safety.”

Our team at NPI strong­ly agrees. It’s why we’ve made adop­tion of SB 5395 one of our leg­isla­tive pri­or­i­ties for the 2020 leg­isla­tive session.

We’re grate­ful to Sen­a­tor Wil­son for her efforts to advance this leg­is­la­tion. We also com­mend Sen­a­tor Lisa Well­man (D‑41st Dis­trict) and Sen­a­tor Man­ka Dhin­gra (D‑45th Dis­trict, also a North­west Pro­gres­sive Foun­da­tion board­mem­ber) for thought­ful­ly con­tribut­ing their per­spec­tives to the debate in sup­port of this bill. Their floor speech­es today were very mean­ing­ful and on point.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, much of what we heard from the Repub­li­can side today was utter non­sense. Phil For­tu­na­to offered hys­ter­i­cal rhetoric, while Doug Erick­sen sar­cas­ti­cal­ly offered his vote in exchange for Demo­c­ra­t­ic sup­port for vouchers.

Sad­ly, even though it’s 2020, sex­u­al­i­ty and sex­u­al health are still con­sid­ered by many to be taboo top­ics… which is tru­ly unfortunate.

As Sen­a­tor Wil­son says, knowl­edge is pow­er. Young peo­ple should­n’t have to rely on savvy peers or the Inter­net to learn how to take care of them­selves, under­stand their bod­ies, and main­tain appro­pri­ate rela­tion­ships built on con­sent and hon­est com­mu­ni­ca­tion. SB 5395 is leg­is­la­tion that young Wash­ing­to­ni­ans need.

Oppo­nents of SB 5395 keep disin­gen­u­ous­ly argu­ing that we should sim­ply “trust par­ents” to talk to their kids about these topics.

But most Wash­ing­ton par­ents choose to send their chil­dren to pub­lic schools as opposed to pri­vate schools or home-school­ing because they want their chil­dren to receive a well-round­ed edu­ca­tion taught by pro­fes­sion­al, knowl­edge­able instruc­tors using cur­ricu­lum that has been thor­ough­ly vetted.

Young peo­ple ben­e­fit just as much from learn­ing about sex­u­al health and con­sent as they do about math, sci­ence, lan­guages, the arts, or any oth­er subject.

We encour­age any par­ent fol­low­ing the debate over SB 5395 who has con­cerns to read the bill, give Super­in­ten­dent Chris Reyk­dal’s office an oppor­tu­ni­ty to answer any ques­tions they may have, and review the exist­ing cur­ricu­lum that is already being offered to our stu­dents. Again, knowl­edge is power!

Con­grat­u­la­tions to the Sen­ate on approv­ing this leg­is­la­tion. We’re ready to help move it through the State House of Representatives.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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