Senate Bill 5395 passed 28-21 in the Senate Wednesday after more than a year of efforts to require sex education in schools.
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The bill was first introduced during the 2019 session and was ultimately decided by the House Committee on Education that it be returned to the Senate Rules Committee for a third reading on April 28 last year. It will now go to the House of Representatives.
While not everyone supported the effort to require schools to teach sex ed, those who voted for the bill said the effort to educate children about personal space, physical safety, and violent behavior would decrease sexual and domestic violence.
“The way we do that is that we teach our children about consent, healthy relationships and how to actually live in a world where we don’t have violence,” said Sen. Manka Dhingra (D-45th District). “It really helps each of our children to have these tough conversations in relationships and how to really understand our bodies. Our bodies are not taboo.”
The bill, among other provisions, requires public schools to teach comprehensive sexual health education that is scientifically accurate. The curriculum adopted by each school district must also be inclusive of diverse students, include instruction about abstinence and forms of contraception, encourage healthy relationships, how to respond to sexual violence, and teach affirmative consent.
Opponents of the bill said it should be up to community leaders to decide if that school district teaches sex ed and develop its own curriculum. Sen. Mike Padden (R-4th District) said he wanted the decision to be left to school district officials.
“Let’s just say I trust our superintendents and local school boards to develop the proper curriculum, and they’re doing that,” Padden said during debate on the Senate floor on Wednesday. “I would note that the number of abortions and pregnancies are down in our state, so some of the things we’re doing and what local school districts are doing now seem to be working along with, of course, the implements of parents.”
Padden feared some parents would pull their children out of public schools entirely rather than let their kids attend a school in which sex education is taught.
“A lot of people will leave the public school system rather than have these sort of values, which go against, in some occasions, deeply-held beliefs and morals,” Padden said. “And they’re going to say it’s not worth it. The future of my child is too important to have them harmed by this.”
The new regulations, if signed into law, would be phased in on a timeline. Sex ed that follows the new law would be required for grades 6 through 12 by Sept. 1, 2020. That rollout will have an additional year for students in grades kindergarten through fifth grade. All schools must comply with the new law by Sept. 1, 2021.
The bill also stipulates that parents can still opt their children out of all or parts of the school district’s sex ed program by filing a written request stating as much with the school principal or the school board. Such requests must be granted by the school district.
This bill, Dhingra added, would provide the state with an early intervention tool that would mitigate the need to utilize crisis response resources later.
“I’d love for domestic violence to not be in our state,” Dhingra said. “We do that by making sure we are teaching our children about healthy relationships.”
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