OLYMPIA — A bill to require public school districts to teach comprehensive sexual health education to all K-12 students beginning with the 2022-23 school year passed the state House early Thursday.
The Olympian reported that the measure passed on a 56-40 vote after nearly six hours of contentious debate that started Wednesday evening. The Senate has already passed the bill, but because of changes the House made to the measure it now goes back to the Senate for a final vote before heading to Gov. Jay Inslee for his signature.
Under current law, public schools may provide sexual health education to their students, but it’s not a requirement.
The bill would be phased in over two years, with the mandate to teach all students in grades six through 12 beginning with the 2021-2022 school year and to all students a year later. Backers of the bill say it’s designed with equity in mind, to ensure all students get the opportunity to learn. There also is an “opt out” provision enabling parents to pull their children out of the sex ed instruction.
“We’re not trying to replace family values; we encourage family values,” said state Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self, a Mukilteo Democrat who supported the bill. “We’re trying to teach facts and a curriculum and set some standards for our students.”
Opponents say a curriculum reviewed by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction is too explicit. Several of the bill’s opponents say sex education should be restricted to grades seven through 12.
“I’m not sure why we’re rushing to remove the innocence from our youth,” said state Rep. Mike Steele, a Chelan Republican who opposed the bill. “We put so much on them already.”
The bill states that the definition of comprehensive sexual health education for K-3 would be social-emotional learning. Supporters of the measure said that’s already taught at most schools and involves learning about healthy friendships and protecting one’s personal space from unwanted touching.