SB 5395 makes a few significant changes to the delivery of sexual education in schools and is one of the more controversial bills to be considered in recent memory. As it deals directly with education, I figured a blog might be of interest to our readers.
The law on the books at present(which I will refer to as the “2007 law”) was passed in 2007 and can be found here. https://apps.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=28A.300.475.
The current bill(which I will refer to as the “2020 law”), has been passed by both bodies of the legislature, and will be become law absent a veto by Governor Inslee. http://lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov/biennium/2019-20/Pdf/Bills/Senate%20Bills/5395-S.E.pdf?q=20200308161935
The language in the 2020 law pretty much mirrors the 2007 law with a few exceptions, but those exceptions have become lightning rods when it comes to the discussion.
WHAT ARE THE EXCEPTIONS OF NOTE?
First, the 2020 version mandates Comprehensive Sexual Health Education(CSHE) in grades 6-12 beginning in September 2021, and grades K-5 beginning in September 2022. Under the 2007 law, CSHE was voluntary—Districts and/or schools could choose to tackle the subject or choose not to do so. So, we are going from a “the Districts can teach CSE if desired” to a “all public schools must teach CSE.” Futher, while the quantum of CSE required is vague, the law does say CSE must be “an integral part of the curriculum” at public schools.
Second, the 2020 version requires all public schools to use curricula approved by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction(OSPI). At present, schools can choose their own curricula, but that option is limited as the law limits the choices to what OSPI approves.
For the most part, the remaining provisions of the 2007 and 2020 laws are pretty similar. The 2020 version has updated some of “medically scientific” and “evidence based” definitions and also requires compliance with RCW 49.60, which is known as the Law Against Discrimination, ensuring consideration of all protected classes of people. I have heard little conversation about these provisions and they appear to lack any controversy.
However, the State mandating CSE, while also dictating the curricula, has garnered a lot of attention so I figured it was worthy of a discussion.
VIEWS ON THE MANDATE
I have my own views, which may be the subject of another blog, but I am going to try and present an objective point of view on this, offering information provided by both sides.
From what I can tell, the people who are opposed to the mandate rely on a couple primary reasons. Many people oppose OSPI and the State mandating any specific education, especially on a topic as sensitive as CSE. They also cite a survey done by OSPI wherein 58% of respondents indicated they felt CSE should not be required in public schools.
One of the biggest opponents of the mandatory CSE is Informed Parents of Washington. https://www.informedparentsofwashington.com/. The primary argument against the mandate appears to take the position that mandatory CSE goes well beyond what a public school should do, and the bulk of this type of education should be left to the parents.
Those pushing for the change, led in large part by OSPI, argue that CSE is an important topic in the education of our youth, and a significant number of children do not have adequate resources at home and/or do not receive sufficient education on the topic. There is also some societal benefit to filling in the gaps with respect to information, trying to make sure that all kids are educated and properly informed, and OSPI is well equipped to be the gatekeeper. Chris Reykdal, the current Superintendent of Public Instruction does a good job of advocating these positions.
Here is a recent radio interview with Chris Reykdal tackling some tough questions from a conservative talk show host. https://omny.fm/shows/the-dori-monson-show/superintendent-reykdal-addresses-concerns-over-sex
ARE SCHOOLS TEACHING SEXUAL EDUCATION AT PRESENT?
VIEWS ON THE CURRICULA
The most vigorous debate has occurred around the curricula. A District must teach a curriculum approved by OSPI. Currently, OSPI has approved a few curricula. That list can be found here. https://www.k12.wa.us/sites/default/files/public/hivsexualhealth/pubdocs/Reviewed%20Materials%20Consistent%20with%20State%20Requirements%20Rev%2002.07.2020.pdf. Notably, the selection is limited. There are about a half dozen approved or partially approved programs, which address varying grade levels. From what I can tell in an informal survey of those involved, the two most popular choices are the 3Rs and Flash. A vocal subset of those involved have serious concerns about quite a bit of the material within these programs.
I believe TSD currently uses Flash for middle schoolers, but could not determine if any of the other curricula are used. Also, with the 2007 law in place, TSD, like any other district, is free to determine the quantity and content, with the OSPI standards simply serving as a suggested guideline. That changes under the 2020 law as the parameters within which districts can exercise discretion narrow to a significant degree.
This issue clearly fell along party lines at the legislature. The Debate on the House floor was interesting. The Democrats pushed the curriculum, and tossed aside consideration of any significant changes. The Republicans were doing whatever could be done to create obstacles to the legislation passing.
I watched the entire debate on TVW and the funniest moment for me was when they were debating the content, and a MATURE SUBJECT MATTER—VIEWER DISCRETION ADVISED warning popped up.
I did find it ironic that TVW felt the need to warn viewers that CSE material being taught to our children, and debated on the floor, may not be appropriate for its viewing audience.
There were other comical moments, like when they were discussing an amendment to prohibit the use of Playboy and Penthouse covers(which is actually part of one of the curricula). That amendment failed. There was also a 10 or 15 minute debate surrounding curricula which covered “self pleasuring,” and the timing on when that should be covered in the K-12 education.
It appears to me that those who are in favor of the curriculum subscribe to the theories that (1)more information is better, (2)the broad curriculum is a good resource and (3)OSPI provides(or will provide) adequate options.
Those opposed to the curriculum (1)object to the mature topics being tackled, (2)are concerned that OSPI and the State will dictate unacceptable curriculum and (3)that making CSE an integral part of the curriculum spreads thinner the limited time and resources possessed by Districts.
HOW CAN YOUR VOICE BE HEARD?
It is highly likely that Governor Inslee will sign the 2020 bill, thus it will become law. Starting in 2021, all public schools in Washington will be required make CSE an integral part of the curriculum. OSPI will determine which curricula can be used, and while local districts can develop their own curricula, I would think doing so is pretty cost prohibitive so districts will choose from the menu provided by OSPI. Concerned citizens should contact OSPI and your local schools boards to have voices heard.
The contact info for the the OSPI Sexual Health Program Supervisor is Laurie.email@example.com
You could also contact your statewide legislator and/or TSD School Board members. You can locate their email addresses here.
As always, we welcome comments, questions and suggestions any time. You can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org