Last year, the Legislature stopped just short of mandating that all public schools teach a far-reaching sex-ed curriculum starting in kindergarten, but the push is back this year in Olympia.
On Thursday the House Education Committee held a hearing on House Bill 2184, which would require all school districts in the state to teach what they call “comprehensive sexual health education” (CSE) at every age. Last year’s similar Senate Bill 5395 is also still alive, and could come up for a full Senate vote at any time.
The state mandates take away local control.
How might such a system look in Washington? It’s instructive to look south, where California passed a CSE bill four years ago.
Last year the California State Board of Education approved a 1,000-plus page framework for school districts to implement their 2016 law that, like what is being considered now in Olympia, mandated comprehensive sex ed.
One book recommended in California for first grade, “Who Are You?: The Kid’s Guide to Gender Identity,” includes a colorful spinning wheel for children to explore with lines such as “I have a body that made adults guess ‘girl.’ I am gender fluid / gender queer.”
California discourages teachers from separating students into groups of boys and girls during sex ed, for fear of “misgendering” students.
Both proposed laws in Washington require any curriculum to conform to our state’s Health & Physical Education standards, which include a section on sexual health.
Among the state’s guidelines, which would become mandatory for all school districts under the laws being considered right now by the Legislature, are these items:
• Kindergarten: “Understand there are many ways to express gender.”
• Fourth grade: “Define sexual orientation.”
• Seventh grade: “Distinguish between biological sex, gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation.”
• Eighth grade: “List steps to using a condom correctly.”
There are dozens of other requirements. You can, and should, read them all here: http://bit.ly/WA-Sex-Ed-Standards. To be fair, some of them are very worthwhile. Perhaps you support or oppose some or all of them. Under the proposed new state laws, your opinion and that of your local school board wouldn’t matter. They would all become mandatory, with no local control or choice on how to address sex ed for families or elected school boards.
That’s not what people want. In a survey last year conducted by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction at the request of the Legislature, 58 percent of respondents in Washington opposed CSE.
Washington’s law would allow parents to file paperwork to exempt their children from sex ed, but there are concerns that a “comprehensive” approach will be integrated into other areas of the curriculum, with no exemption possible.
I, for one, don’t want to pull my kids from class for anything. I want our students to be taught what they need to know about human growth and development.
Indeed, one frustrating aspect of this debate is that sex ed, when focused properly and decided upon at the local level, can and should be an important part of a child’s education.
Many of us fully support age-appropriate sex ed that teaches about anatomy, reproduction, how to prevent pregnancy (including abstinence as well as other forms of contraception) and prevention of sexually-transmitted diseases (and the fact that abstinence is the only 100-percent certain way of avoiding STDs and pregnancy).
The proposed laws also include lessons in what is called affirmative consent, which teaches that a lack of “no” doesn’t equal “yes.” This is an important concept, but it would be simple enough to pass a law or rule mandating only that, just as state law currently mandates HIV/AIDS education, rather than the full CSE system.
I love our public school system. I’m a product of Washington’s public schools, and my three children attend public school. I would hate to see our classrooms become a further battleground in the culture wars, with our teachers at ground zero, forced to teach the latest trends in sexuality and gender theory, rather than the solid facts on reproduction, bodily development and safety that our children need to protect their bodies and hearts as they mature.
Another disappointing aspect of these proposed CSE laws is that they could further worsen the flight of many families away from public schools. It should be unacceptable to lawmakers to create a system that pushes more parents and taxpayers to see our public schools as amoral, or even worse, anti-moral forces.
The Legislature is moving quickly on CSE bills. You can read the bills at https://app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary. Then, if you have an opinion, consider contacting your legislators soon on HB 2184 and SB 5395. (It takes less than 90 seconds to register your opinion at 1-800-562-6000. Seriously — it’s easy and painless.)
Here is the question our Legislature is about to decide: should the state require a specific, one-size-fits-all brand of far-reaching sex ed for every district, or should sex ed be focused and formed at the family and local school district level?
This is the time to let lawmakers know how you feel.
Brian Mittge is a proud public school parent whose columns appear in The Chronicle each Saturday. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.