The controversial topic of sexual education is back on the table in the Washington State Legislature. A year after a similar bill died, state lawmakers are trying again this session to pass a law that would mandate that all school districts teach comprehensive sexual education.
Right now, not all school districts do that. Most districts provide some sex ed, most commonly in high school, but some do not teach certain topics that the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction recommends, including sexual orientation and gender roles, according to a survey done by OSPI. Other topics that count as "comprehensive" sexual education include curriculum that encourages healthy relationships, teaches kids how to identify sexual violence and emphasizes affirmative consent, which is defined as giving conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity.
The bill, Senate Bill 5395, was reintroduced this month and would impose the requirement to begin in the 2021-22 school year. House Bill 2184 is similar but would have the requirement begin in the 2022-23 school year.
Both bills would allow school districts to choose or create their own curriculum, and both bills would allow parents to opt their children out of those classes.
The Legislature last year asked OSPI to convene a workgroup to weigh the challenges and benefits of requiring sex ed. That workgroup found, among other things, that all students should have access to comprehensive sex ed, due in no small part to the "incredibly disturbing trend" in rising STD rates throughout the state, says Laurie Dils, the sexual health education program supervisor for OSPI.
"Members of the group felt strongly that this is an equity issue, that every single student around the state deserves exactly the same access to medically accurate, comprehensive information that protects people's health," Dils says.