By Emma Epperly, WNPA Olympia News Bureau
The state Senate, in a party-line 28-21 vote, passed a bill Wednesday that would require public schools to teach medically and scientifically accurate comprehensive sexual health education.
The floor debate on the issue lasted approximately two hours with 18 amendments proposed by Republicans. Just one, Amendment 58, passed. It would require school districts to grant a parent’s or guardian’s request to excuse their child from a sex-education course.
Multiple amendments that did not pass included proposals that comprehensive sex education would not be required statewide until the state also implements requirements for other subjects, like math or English.
“People call this sex education, but it’s about much more than sex,” said Sen. Claire Wilson, D-Auburn, 30th Legislative District, one of the bill’s sponsors. “It’s about personal health, it’s about important life decisions, it’s about medical and economic consequences — all the things we want our young scholars to understand so that they can make the best choices for their health and their future.”
Lisa Wellman, D-Mercer Island, also sponsored the bill. She serves as chairwoman of the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee.
This bill is an important part of the package of school safety bills that have been making their way through the legislative process this session, Wellman said.
“We know we have problems surrounding consent in this country – in this state,” Wellman said.
She mentioned statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that show one in 14 women in the United States have been raped by the time they are 18. Also, according to the CDC, 7 percent of women have been victims of sexual violence by an intimate partner before they reach 18.
Sen. Emily Randall, D-Bremerton, expressed her viewpoint noting she is the youngest member of the Senate and the most recent to go through the K -12 education system.
“We obviously are not doing well enough,” said Randall. “… We need to take out the emotion and to make these conversations about sex and gender and identity about the facts, so that young people are empowered about their bodies and empowered to make good decisions.”
Republicans spoke at length on the importance of local school board choice, which they voiced would be taken away from schools with this mandate.
Minority Leader Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, opposed sex education for the kindergarten through fifth-grade age group specifically. He also opposed the bill in its entirety, saying it’s not the highest priority especially in grades kindergarten through third-grade.
Sen. Judy Warnick, R- Moses Lake, does not believe that abstinence-only sex education is enough, but says that the passage of this bill will push parents in her district to either homeschool or enroll their children in private schools.
“This is an important topic,” Warnick said. “It’s a sensitive topic but to take a parent’s role out, and I completely believe that’s what we are doing by taking out the ability for our parents to go to our local school boards and discuss with them what’s being taught in the schools about sex ed.”
Warnick noted, she is disappointed that this issue became partisan.
Sen. Doug Ericksen, R- Whatcom, proposed five amendments and spoke numerous times in opposition of the bill.
“This legislation is not about sex ed – it’s about a social agenda,” Ericksen said. “And it’s about imposing a social agenda and a worldview in our schools and mandating it be imposed.”
School districts could choose a curriculum that falls under the guidelines for sexual health information and disease prevention, developed by the state Department of Health and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
The bill requires instruction and materials to be inclusive and use language and strategies that recognize all members of a protected class under the state civil rights act.
The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction also must publish model curriculum, policies and resources on their website. The bill will now move to the House of Representatives for consideration.