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Madsen: Sex ed bill requires R-rated material taught to children

Sue Lani Madsen, an architect and rancher, writes a weekly column. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

“Mature Subject Matter – Viewer Discretion Advised” was the warning label on a live broadcast from the Washington House floor this week. The subject was state-mandated comprehensive sex education. It makes a good meme, but it’s not the story.

TVW is Washington’s own version of C-SPAN, providing access statewide on to legislative doings in Olympia. Mike Bay, TVW vice president of programming, was tipped off by the clerk’s office to the shock value of some of the more than 200 amendments filed on ESSB 5395. Out of an abundance of caution, he made the call and added the warning.

“It was a mistake on our part,” said Renee Sinclair, president of TVW. “We bring state government to our viewers in the most unfiltered way we can. We are not the story, the story is the debate.”

Bay said the most graphic amendments were withdrawn, but debate viewers may still have appreciated the warning. In support of an amendment to require curriculum review by a panel of medical professionals, Rep. Vicki Kraft (R-Vancouver) read from an approved elementary school curriculum. Kraft described the illustration as a drawing of two kids on top of one another on a bed and read the text. “Sexual intercourse – having sex – can involve the penis and the vagina, or the mouth and the genitals, or the penis and the anus. It’s a fourth-grade lesson, Madam Speaker. Madame Speaker, this is not age-appropriate.”

The response from Rep. Laurie Dolan (D-Olympia), formerly of Spokane, was one of the standard Democratic rebuttals. OSPI is just a resource. School boards and curriculum committees can choose from the list or write their own.

But it’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal who approves the list. OSPI decides whether a custom-written curriculum is sufficiently progressive enough. OSPI is pushing a top-down mandate for comprehensive sex education.

The choice is an illusion just like the debate was a formality. Point and counterpoint between Republicans and Democrats.

GOP: Thousands of parents are contacting us saying this is not age-appropriate and they don’t want it taught in their schools.

Dems: Mustn’t be prescriptive, our teachers are professionals and they know what’s best in their classrooms.

GOP: Teachers are contacting us saying this is not age-appropriate and they don’t want to teach it in their classrooms.

Dems: Teachers are under contract and they don’t have a choice what to teach in their classrooms.

GOP: Teachers are contacting us saying some of the curriculum violates their religious beliefs guaranteed under the state constitution.

Dems: Imagine the chaos if teachers got to decide what they taught in their own classrooms.

GOP: Students are contacting us saying they want to opt out because it violates their religious beliefs.

Dems: Teenagers’ brains are not developed enough to make important decisions.

GOP: But you guys said teenagers are mature enough to make their own health care decisions without parents even being told they went to a doctor.

Dems: This is different.

GOP: As long as we’re going to call it comprehensive, then let’s make sure it provides scientifically based and medically accurate information about fetal development and abortion at each stage of pregnancy, and addresses the postabortion consequences to women.

Dems: No, mustn’t be too prescriptive.

GOP: But the whole bill is a prescription.

Dems: No, it’s not, OSPI just sets the standards and is a resource. School boards can choose from the OSPI list or write their own.

GOP: Then let’s ask for a fiscal note on what it costs school districts to write their own.

Dems: Not necessary, schools can just adopt from the OSPI list.

GOP: Let’s postpone the mandate for grades K-3 because there’s only one curriculum to select from, it’s generating the most complaints, and smaller districts don’t have the money to write their own like Spokane. School boards need choices.

Dems: Nope.

GOP: Can we require lessons on why pornography is as addictive as drugs and underage sex might be a felony?

Dems: There you go being prescriptive again.

GOP: Let’s make it clear charter schools have more flexibility to innovate in response to parents’ and students’ needs. Some might think this curriculum goes too far, some may think it doesn’t go far enough.

Dems: No, because charter schools are public schools (and we’re still mad about that court decision).

GOP: Let’s have a review panel of medical professionals to determine if it’s medically accurate.

Dems: Educators are the professionals who know what’s best.

GOP: But you said teachers can’t decide not to teach parts they think are not age-appropriate for the students.

Dems: We meant OSPI educators know best.

GOP: Let’s make it “opt in” instead of forcing parents to jump through hoops to opt out.

Dems: Parents opted in to OSPI’s agenda when they enrolled children in public school.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all agree on a rating standard for age-appropriateness and maturity level of media? Something parents could easily understand.

There is one. Apply the Motion Picture Association of America ratings system and that fourth-grade lesson plan from the 3R’s curriculum would earn an R rating for adult themes and brief nudity in a sexual context. Anyone under 17 must be accompanied to school by a parent or guardian.

ESSB 5395 passed on a party-line vote. All amendments were rejected.

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