Ref. 90 To Repeal Sex Education on November Ballot

Voters will decide to keep or reject new state requirements for teaching sex education in public schools.

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The Washington State Senate passed a bill in March that will require all public school districts to teach comprehensive sexual health education for grades K-12 by the school year 2022-23.

Comprehensive sexual health education is defined as recurring instruction in human development and reproduction. The bill requires that all curriculum, instruction and materials used to provide sex ed must be scientifically and medically accurate, age-appropriate and inclusive to all students, regardless of protected class status.

Any public school currently offering sex ed will have to adapt its curriculum to meet

the requirements of the bill. They have until the 2021-22 school year to implement sex ed for grades 6-12; the following year will require the curriculum to include grades K-12.

The Peninsula School District already teaches a nearly identical sex ed program that families can opt out of now.

Rep. Michelle Caldier (R-26th, Port Orchard) voted against the bill when it was brought to the House. Caldier said she received profuse feedback from constituents opposing it.

“We had probably a record number of people watching online as we debated this bill on the House floor,” Caldier said. “When you’ve got this much pressure from the public, you don’t expect the bill to get passed.”

Public outcry grew when the bill approached final approval in the Senate, with protests held across the state, including at the capitol in Olympia. Just two days after the bill passed, a group of voters filed Referendum 90 to repeal it.

Rebeca Posteuca, a Key Peninsula mother of four children, ages 2 to 10, said she’s not against sex ed being taught in schools, but she does oppose this bill.

“I think kindergarten through third-grade is too young to be learning about anatomy and sex,” Posteuca said. “It doesn’t make sense to talk to a kid about sex before they’re even curious about it.”

Posteuca volunteered to collect petition signatures for the referendum. She and other volunteers wore masks and gloves and provided hand sanitizer to ensure everyone’s safety while gathering signatures.

Despite having only 90 days to collect signatures during a pandemic, the referendum was certified with 264,637, more than double the amount needed to put it on the ballot in November.

Sen. Emily Randall (D-26th, Bremerton), an original sponsor of the bill, said comprehensive sex ed is not only supported by experts and data but by students as well.

“We know that the data overwhelmingly supports that sex ed in schools reduces unexpected pregnancies and sexual assault,” Randall said. “I’ve talked with middle, high school and college students who feel they don’t have a good concept of affirmative consent and they wanted to have those conversations.”

The bill also requires that affirmative consent and bystander training be included in curricula. Affirmative consent is defined as the conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in and is a requirement before sexual activity.

Kerri Charles, another KP parent, has five children, two entering elementary school, two in middle school and one in high school in PSD. She supports sex ed taught in school because as a sexual assault survivor she understands its importance.

“I think kids should be taught consent at a very young age,” Charles said. “For me, and others who have been sexually assaulted, having more people understand this could’ve helped.”

However, Charles doesn’t think reproductive anatomy or detailed lessons about intercourse should be taught at a young age.

Both Posteuca and Charles said information about reproductive anatomy and sexual activities shouldn’t be taught until fourth-grade at the earliest.

Melisa Wisner, Peninsula School District’s executive director of learning and innovation, said she gets a lot of questions from parents about this issue.

“There’s no sexual content in grades K-4. None,” she said. “I think that’s a huge misconception.”

Wisner said sexual content isn’t introduced until the fifth grade and parents are notified beforehand.

For the past three years, Wisner has helped organize parent nights at Peninsula schools. Parents of fifth-graders are invited to review the school’s sex ed curriculum, ask questions and opt out of any instruction in sexual health education.

Even if Referendum 90 is successful in repealing the Senate bill, PSD will continue to use its current sex ed curriculum as long as it continues to meet state standards, Wisner said.

“I rarely ever have anyone opt out,” Wisner said. “But we respect parents’ right to decide what is appropriate for their children.”