You may have recently encountered arguments on social media or among family and friends against Washington State’s new sex education law. Or perhaps you’ve seen protesters waving signs with dire warnings that kindergartners are learning lewd things in grade school. Questions about ignored social distancing practices aside, What’s all this fuss about? you may be wondering. Are five-year-olds really going to be taught pornography like some people claim?

Emphatically, NO. And here’s the true information you need to know about SB 5395, the Comprehensive Sexual Health Education bill.

SB 5395 supports parents who wish to teach their children themselves. Just as they already could since the passage of the Healthy Youth Act in 2007, parents can still opt their children out of instruction. The new law actually strengthens the opt-out rules by affirming that schools must honor all opt-out requests.

There’s no better resource than a supportive parent. The open, non-judgmental conversations parents have with their children about sex, bodies, family values, and relationships are among the most important ones they will have. Washington State schools are supporting families by ensuring both parents and educators are giving young people the information they need.

As the primary sex educators of their own children, when parents or caregivers are comfortable talking with their teens about relationships and sex, they are better able to support and help young people make healthy decisions. Studies show that teens who report having good conversations with their parents about sexuality wait longer to begin having sex and are more likely to use condoms and other birth control methods when they do become sexually active. Numerous studies have shown that teens want to hear what their parents think and feel about sex and relationships.

For those who choose to partner with schools on sexual health education, parents, caregivers, and students will be able to find out from local decision makers how it is taught in their schools. This includes how often and when it is being taught, as well as what topics are being taught, what curriculum is being used, and who is teaching the program.

Key Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) Requirements

Kindergarten through 3rd-grade kids are not required to get ‘sex education.’ Beginning in the 2022–23 school year, they will begin ‘Social Emotional Learning.’ If districts choose to include sexual health content, it must be consistent with Washington State’s Healthy Youth Act, in effect since 2008, which means it must be medically and scientifically accurate; age appropriate; appropriate for students regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, and disability status; and consistent with Washington’s Guidelines for Sexual Health and Disease Prevention, in effect since 2005.

The curricula (Activities for Families & Educators) for Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) for grades K–12 are available on the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) website. Navigate to Student Success | Health & Safety | Mental, Social, & Behavioral Health | Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) and scroll down to the SEL Learning Activities (PDF).

In 4th through 12th grade, “instruction must include information about the physiological, psychological, and sociological developmental process experienced by an individual; the development of intrapersonal and interpersonal skills to communicate, respectfully and effectively, to reduce health risks and choose healthy behaviors and relationships based on mutual respect and affection, and free from violence, coercion, and intimidation; health care and prevention resources; the development of meaningful relationships and avoidance of exploitative relationships; understanding the influences of family, peers, community, and the media throughout life on healthy sexual relationships; and affirmative consent and recognizing and responding safely and effectively when violence or a risk of violence is or may be present, with strategies that include bystander training.”

Curricula consistent with Washington State Requirements for 4th through 12th graders is available on the OSPI website by following the path: Student Success | Resources by Subject Area | Sexual Health Education | New Legislation: Senate Bill 5395 – Comprehensive Sexual Health Education. Select the instructional materials that have been reviewed by OSPI and the state Department of Health (DOH) (PDF).

All K–12 kids will receive Sexual Abuse Prevention training consistent with Erin’s Law, passed in 2018. Strategies will depend “on the age of the child receiving prevention services, the type of sexual abuse being addressed, and community and cultural contexts” and will address a “wide range of behaviors and experiences related to sexual violence, such as child sexual abuse, sexual assault, and sex trafficking.”

All students should have equal access to honest, factual information. This legislation will give young people the tools they need for a healthy and more equitable future. Honest, accurate, and age-appropriate sex education is not controversial, despite the inflammatory claims of its opponents.

In all cases, the results show that parents and guardians overwhelmingly support requiring and expanding sexual health education. The evidence demonstrates that requiring sex education in public schools should be a non-issue in our state and across the country.

Nationally, more than 93% of voters place high importance on requiring sexual health education in both middle and high school, regardless of political affiliation. At least 84% of parents and guardians that identify as Republicans or Democrats support the inclusion of a wide range of topics in high school, including puberty, healthy relationships, sexual orientation, abstinence, STDs, and birth control. More than 78% of parents and guardians support teaching those topics in middle school. (Kantor & Levitz, 2017)

In Washington, statements that encourage teaching young people healthy relationship skills, comprehensive sex education, and LGBTQ inclusivity are strongly supported by voters. In 2019, a strong majority supported requiring schools to offer medically-accurate, age-appropriate, comprehensive sex education in public schools (86% support, 70% strongly support). In 2018, approximately 3 out of 5 Washington voters supported requiring comprehensive sex education and expanding the existing curriculum in schools. (Planned Parenthood and GfK, 2018)

Amid a global pandemic, while Washington parents are struggling to balance work, schooling at home, and concerns for health and safety, the last thing anyone should be doing is spreading misinformation and fear.

The misinformation campaign spread by groups in the minority of our state is misguided, uninformed, and driven by anti-LGBTQ activists that push fear and hate. It is shameful to see groups exploit a public health crisis to promote misinformation and fear among parents. As the people of Washington do their part to keep each other healthy and protect their families, we all must rise to the challenge of this health care crisis and work to spread facts, not myths. Right now, the last thing parents and youth need is a backwards attempt to deny science and mislead and frighten people.

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