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Washington State Sex Education Bill Passes With Strong Support

By Zoë Kirsch | November 4, 2020

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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.

Almost 60 percent of Washington voters approved a comprehensive sex education mandate in the late hours of Election Night, making that state the first to do so.

The decision was the only statewide ballot measure on Washington’s November election ticket.

Now that it’s authorized, Referendum 90 will let Senate Bill 5395 stand. That mandate requires public schools to offer families the option of an age-appropriate curriculum focused on issues including human development and consent.

Despite opposition fueled by concerns about local control and the lessons purportedly being inappropriate for kids, the measure passed with 59.59 percent of the vote, according to the Washington Secretary of State’s website.

Most of the state’s schools already offer some form of sex education, often at the middle school level.

The sex education bill brought extra buzz to the state schools chief race, when Republican challenger Maia Espinoza accused incumbent Democrat Chris Reykdal of “championing a policy that teaches sexual positions to fourth graders.” Reykdal beat back Espinoza Tuesday night, winning 57 percent of the vote to secure a second term as Washington’s superintendent of public instruction.

In the months preceding the election, Parents for Safe Schools, a Republican-backed organization, and Safe & Healthy Youth Washington, which is supported mostly by Planned Parenthood’s partners, attempted to outraise one another, with the latter group coming out on top.

“I think it’s sending a message that voters want factual, honest information,” said Courtney Normand, the director of a group that campaigned for the referendum, in an interview with the Associated Press. “…We are so thankful to the voters for this really strong victory, which really shows folks deeply support making sure young people have accurate and inclusive sex education.”

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Just 24 States Mandate Sex Education for K-12 Students, and Only 9 Require Any Discussion of Consent. See How Your State Stacks Up

Supporters of the measure have noted that the legislation won’t require youngsters to learn about sexually explicit topics. In kindergarten through third grade, for instance, classes will focus on social and emotional learning, like teaching kids how to regulate their feelings.

Local administrators and families will have some decision-making power around the policy. District leaders will be able to submit their own curricula for state approval if they don’t want to accept the options presented to them from the top-down, and caretakers can opt children out of the classes.

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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