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Reykdal Reelected to Washington’s Top Schools Post After GOP Challenger Attacked His Support for Controversial Sex Ed Rules

By Mark Keierleber | November 4, 2020

(www.chrisreykdal.org)

2020’s KEY EDUCATION VOTES: See our full coverage of the 46 races that could reshape America’s schools following Election Day — and get the latest updates on state policies and students’ challenges during the pandemic by signing up for The 74 Newsletter.

Incumbent Chris Reykdal has been reelected as Washington state’s superintendent of public instruction, coming out on top of a divisive political battle over the fate of sex education.

Reykdal, a Democrat, secured 56 percent of the vote compared to Republican challenger Maia Espinoza’s 42 percent.

Also victorious was the state’s Referendum 90, which requires the state’s public schools to provide students a comprehensive sex education. The mandate, which Reykdal backed, became a partisan kerfuffle in the race for the state’s top schools job, which is technically nonpartisan. After Espinoza accused Reykdal of championing rules that “teaches sexual positions to fourth graders” in an election guide, the issue wound up before the state Supreme Court.

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In a 6-3 opinion last month, the court found that Espinoza’s comments didn’t reach the high bar of defamation and allowed them to remain in the voter guide. Reykdal has characterized the sex education requirement as a matter of public health, noting that “one in six boys and one in three girls have been a victim of sexual abuse, sexual assault or unwanted touch in Washington.” The new guidelines include education on consent.

“Voters saw through the vitriol,” Reykdal said from his home on Tuesday evening, according to The Seattle Times. “I’m going to go into work tomorrow, and we’re gonna keep focusing on how to open schools in a way that’s safe, healthy and sustainable.”

The 74’s Laura Fay wrote in 2019 about the fraught state of sex educatin across the country. A key takeaway from her reporting: Only about a dozen states require sex education to be “medically accurate.”

Beyond the sex education debate, Reykdal used his experience as superintendent of public instruction and as a former Democratic state lawmaker to argue he was the best pick to help districts navigate education disruptions caused by the pandemic. Reykdal received significant financial backing from the state teachers union, and critics compared school choice proponent Espinoza to U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. The status of the state’s nascent charter schools movement was the subject of a long-running legal battle brought by the Washington Education Association and other groups.

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Other campaign priorities included a goal of “fully funding our public schools,” and getting “100% of our students graduated from high school with a high-quality diploma,” according to Reykdal’s campaign website.

2020’s KEY EDUCATION VOTES: See our full coverage of the 46 races that could reshape America’s schools following Election Day — and get the latest updates on state policies and students’ challenges during the pandemic by signing up for The 74 Newsletter.

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