Bill targets sexual health curriculum in Washington schools

Senate Bill 5395 is co-sponsored by 17 Democratic representatives and introduced by Sen. Claire Wilson, D-Federal Way.

Woman holding a condom. Photo courtesy istockphoto.com

Woman holding a condom. Photo courtesy istockphoto.com

By Madeline Coats, WNPA Olympia News Bureau

OLYMPIA — A proposed bill would require public schools to provide comprehensive sexual health education as a part of their curriculum.

Senate Bill 5395 is co-sponsored by 17 Democratic representatives and introduced by Sen. Claire Wilson, D-Federal Way. The bill was requested by Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal.

The legislation aims to use curriculum that is evidence-informed, medically and scientifically accurate, age-appropriate and inclusive of all students. SB 5395 seeks to educate students on abstinence as well as other methods of preventing unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

“As a career educator, I have seen first-hand the importance and the effectiveness of comprehensive sexual health education on teens’ personal health and their ability to navigate life successfully,” Wilson said at a public hearing on Wednesday.

Wilson emphasized that many young people engage in sexual activity regardless of what they are told. They need to understand the ramifications of the choices they make, she said.

“Often when people hear the term ‘sex ed,’ their minds get wrapped around the idea of sex and they forget about the health aspects and the fuller education necessary if we want teens to be able to make informed choices,” explained Wilson.

Rep. Vicki Kraft, R-Vancouver, opposed the bill at the hearing, saying that the curriculum would create confusion for children regarding gender identities. The house representative explained her hope for parents to deal with sexual education decisions in their home.

“Let’s just be real about this curriculum, it’s teaching young children how to have sex,” she said.

SB 5395 requires instruction and materials to be inclusive and use language and strategies that recognize all members of a protected class under the state civil rights act.

Aren Wright, sophomore at Olympia High School, testified in support of the bill, explaining the importance of sex education to be inclusive of all gender identities, gender expression and sexual orientations. Blatant misinformation about sexual education is dangerous and ignores the needs of queer youth, she said.

“Our consent curriculum explains nothing about how to report sexual harassment and assault,” Wright said. “This needs to change now.”

Comprehensive sexual health education includes information and skills-based instruction that encourages healthy relationships free from violence, teaches how to identify behaviors that contribute to sexual violence, and emphasizes the importance of consent, the bill states.

Tamaso Johnson, Public Policy Director at the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, testified in support of the bill, saying that domestic violence is absolutely preventable. Students need to learn how to resolve conflict in a healthy, non-violent manner at a young age, he said.

“The first time students come to our campus should not be the first time that they are hearing about affirmative consent, especially with the issues that campuses across the country are having with sexual assault right now,” said Henry Pollet, legislative liaison for the Associated Students of Western Washington University.

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