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:
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.