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Truth-tester: No, sex ed will not be taught to kindergartners

Republican Dave Lucas mailed this campaign ad for his race against incumbent Democrat Andy Billig in the August 2020 primary. It makes false claims about a sex education bill co-sponsored by Billig earlier this year.  (Spokesman-Review)
Republican Dave Lucas mailed this campaign ad for his race against incumbent Democrat Andy Billig in the August 2020 primary. It makes false claims about a sex education bill co-sponsored by Billig earlier this year. (Spokesman-Review)

A recent campaign mailer from Dave Lucas, a Republican running against incumbent Spokane Sen. Andy Billig , falsely suggests that Billig supports teaching sex education to kindergartners, among other claims focused on legislation approved this year.

A controversial sex education bill, which Billig co-sponsored , requires all Washington schools to provide comprehensive sexual health education multiple times through a child’s schooling. The bill was controversial, and opponents gathered enough signatures to get a referendum on the November ballot to repeal it.

Supporters say the bill would teach students the importance of consent and the consequences of sexual activity while opponents say it starts too young and does not give parents and school districts enough control.

Billig, a Democrat who represents central Spokane, said in an interview Friday that he supported the bill because he thought every student in the state should have access to sexual health education if their parent wishes.

“This is a public health priority,” he said. “That’s why this bill was important.”

In Spokane Public Schools – where most children in Billig’s district attend – the new bill does not affect what already is being taught. Spokane Public Schools has been updating curriculum for years, according to its website, and what is currently taught already complies with the standards approved by the Legislature in Senate Bill 5395.

Misinformation regarding the bill and what it requires has been used by numerous campaigns this election cycle. We examine some of Lucas’s claims in his recent mailer and the truthfulness behind each.

Lucas did not respond by press time to repeated attempts for comment.

Claim: The legislation “mandates graphic sex education starting in elementary school.”

Truthfulness: Mostly false, but depends on what you consider “graphic.”

Analysis: While “graphic” is subjective, the new sex education rules require all schools to provide comprehensive sexual health education that is medically and scientifically accurate, age-appropriate and inclusive of all students. What is taught in each grade is different, and each school district can choose what curriculum they want to use out of an Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction-reviewed list.

“It’s about teaching kids to recognize and avoid things … instead of being victimized,” Sen. Claire Wilson, D-Auburn, the sponsor of the bill, said during the floor debate in March.

Sexual health education must be taught no later than fifth grade, according to the bill. What is taught in fourth and fifth grades focuses on helping students understand personal boundaries, develop healthy friendships and gain a basic understanding of human growth and development, according to OSPI. HIV/STD prevention instruction is also taught as it is the current requirement.

In grades six through eight, schools must provide age-appropriate instruction on affirmative consent and bystander training and how to intervene when students see sexual harassment. Students also learn how to develop skills to support healthy behaviors and reduce health risks and how to understand the influence of family and society on healthy sexual relationships, according to OSPI.

Instruction for students in grades nine through 12 focuses more on dating relationships and accessing health care and prevention resources as well as a deeper understanding of human growth and development. For high school, OSPI provides examples of teaching prevention that include evaluating the effectiveness of condoms, contraceptives and abstinence as well as providing local resources for testing and medical care for STDs and pregnancy.

Social media posts and claims from other candidates say supporters of the bill support teaching sex positions to fourth graders.

The graphic images referred to in these claims come from a book intended for parents to use, if they want, when talking to their children about puberty and reproduction.

It is not part of a lesson or curriculum, according to OSPI.

“Students are never provided ‘how-to’ instruction related to sex,” according to the OSPI website.

Claim: The legislation mandates the teaching of sexual education for “all students, even Kindergartners.”

Truthfulness: False.

Analysis: Sexual health education does not begin until fourth or fifth grades, depending on the district. Grades K-3 receive social emotional learning, which teaches skills to cope with feelings, set goals and get along with others. There is no sexuality content required for kindergarten through third grade, according to the OSPI website.

Social emotional learning standards for kindergarten through third grade describe three standards: self- and social-awareness, self- and social-management and self- and social-efficacy.

The standards teach children how to identify emotions, empathize with others, regulate behaviors, motivate themselves and show a desire to contribute to the well-being of the school and community.

Claim: The legislation “allows school districts to ‘comprehensively’ include sex-ed in all curriculum – including math, social studies, science, business and computer classes.”

Truthfulness: False.

Analysis: Sexual health education is only taught a few times over the course of a student’s career: once between kindergarten through third grade, once to students in fourth and fifth grades, twice to students in sixth through eighth grades, and twice to students in ninth through 12th grades.

According to the bill, no sexual health education is required to “be integrated into curriculum, materials, or instruction in unrelated subject matters or courses.”

Claim: The legislation “denies parents and local school boards the power to decide what shall be taught.”

Truthfulness: Mostly false.

Analysis: While school districts choose materials reviewed by OSPI, they do have flexibility.

Each local school district decides which curricula they want to use out of a list of materials reviewed by OSPI and the state Department of Health.

The state does not approve or develop curriculum, according to the OSPI website.

OSPI encourages districts to conduct their own review to ensure materials fit their community.

School districts may also choose or develop any other curriculum as long as it complies with the requirements of the legislation.

Parents can review all materials before they are taught and may opt their children out of instruction.

Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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