Inslee signs new law requiring public schools offer sex ed

Foes can now gather signatures for a referendum that would give voters a chance to keep or repeal it

OLYMPIA — A controversial bill requiring every public school in Washington to provide comprehensive sexual education became law Friday.

Now, opponents will begin their effort to try to repeal it.

Gov. Jay Inslee signed Senate Bill 5395 which mandates a curriculum be available for instruction to students in grades six through 12 in the 2021-22 school year and then all grades, including kindergarten, beginning in the 2022-23 school year.

The new law calls for phasing in instruction that is age-appropriate. Starting in fourth grade, and continuing through high school, a school’s curriculum should contain instruction in areas such as physiological development, intrapersonal and interpersonal skills, choosing healthy behaviors, health care, developing meaningful relationships, and affirmative consent.

Many schools in Washington already teach sexual health education. This new law ensures every school adopts a curriculum. And the new law does provide parents an opportunity to request their children be exempt from the classes.

“This is about making sure younger children know what kind of touching is inappropriate, whether by peers or predators. It’s about helping older students recognize and resist abusive or coercive behavior. It’s about teaching all children to respect diversity and not to bully others,” said Sen. Claire Wilson, D-Auburn, the prime sponsor of the legislation.

Courtney Normand, the state director for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, said the organization was thrilled Washington “is taking bold action” to expand the number of schools adhering to standards that have been in place for more than a decade.

“Honest, accurate and age appropriate sex education is not controversial, and the majority of our lawmakers know this, despite our opponents’ inflammatory claims,” she said. “We know that this legislation will give our young people the tools they need for a healthy and more equitable future.”

This was one of the most controversial bills of the 2020 session. Opponents and supporters packed hearings.

Democrats used their majorities in the House and Senate to push it through over strong opposition from Republicans.

By the time Inslee signed it, his office had received 9,850 messages opposed to the measure and 59 in support. Backers included the statewide Parent Teacher Association, according to the governor’s office. Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal requested the legislation.

Opponents will soon be gathering signatures for Referendum 90 which aims to repeal the law. They must submit signatures of about 130,000 registered voters to the Secretary of State’s Office by June 10 — the date the new law is set to take effect — to earn a spot on the fall ballot.

Mindie Wirth of Bothell is one of those leading the effort. She said Friday that “thousands of individuals” are waiting for petitions so they can begin gathering signatures from friends and family “at the proper social distance.”

“Opposition to this bad law is strong across the state,” she wrote in an email. “As parents we have a responsibility to protect our children from inappropriate, ideology-based curriculum.

“This bill was passed late in the session, on an almost party-line vote, with no amendments accepted, and very little opportunity for ordinary citizens to testify,” she said. “As a public-school parent, I can say that we already ask enough of our teachers, and many school districts simply cannot afford a new, expensive, unfunded mandate.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald net.com. Twitter: @dospueblos

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