I’m proud to live in a state that is prioritizing honest, age-appropriate and medically-accurate information, so I strongly support Senate Bill 5395, the new sex ed bill, that recently passed the Washington Legislature. As a parent and sex ed teacher, I know firsthand how badly our kids are being failed by the current inconsistent standards. I’ve had high schoolers come to class who don’t know the names of body parts. I’ve had kids swear that the “little pill” inside of pregnancy tests is Plan B – it’s not, it’s a desiccant like silica gel that can be toxic if ingested. And I’ve had kids ask if what they’ve experienced was sexual assault – and usually, the answer was yes.
Comprehensive sex ed is not just about condoms and STIs. It’s about making healthy decisions, social and emotional learning, setting and sticking to boundaries, and healthy relationships. For many young people, these classes will be the first time they’ve had conversations about intimate partner violence or coercion. Given our statistics, how can we afford not to have these conversations? According to the CDC, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 13 boys will be sexually abused before the age of 18, and 90% of the time the abuser is someone the child knows. This is a public health crisis and it impacts a lifetime.
We know comprehensive, age-appropriate and medically-accurate sex ed works. It works by delaying sexual initiation, reducing numbers of sexual partners, and increasing barrier use. When children learn the medically accurate names for body parts it reduces shame and stigma, as well as the risk of sexual abuse, because they will have had conversations about consent and boundaries. How can you be opposed to abuse prevention and consent?
LGBTQ+ youth, especially trans youth, are at high risk for bullying, suicide, and intimate partner violence. It’s our ethical and moral obligation to protect the most vulnerable by providing honest, accurate information that is inclusive to all identities. This is not “teaching kids to be trans” as misinformed opponents have hypocritically spouted online in the last week – it’s acknowledging and supporting the lived experiences of everyone. Despite fake news circulating on the internet, comprehensive sex ed is critical for our youth. Doctored images and fake graphics have been circulated to shock opponents and politicize this issue. This includes content intended for older youth that is manipulated with materials meant for kindergartners. What does this bill actually mean for early grades? Under SB 5395, schools are only required to provide instruction in social-emotional learning for grades K-3. This shouldn’t even need to be said, but louder for the folks in the back: there is no sexual content for kindergartners.
I get that misinformation can be scary for parents – as a parent myself, I want to do everything I can to raise a healthy and happy child. I know the backlash comes from well-meaning people who don’t know they’re sharing fake news. I urge concerned individuals to read the language in the bill, and understand there is no one curriculum that is mandated. In Spokane, we created our own curriculum through collaboration and the wave of opt-outs that were predicted by sex ed opponents never happened. The sky didn’t fall. Just like in the past, curriculum control remains at the district level with opportunities for ample parental review and training support for teachers from the state. The legislation ensures basic benchmarks are met statewide, so all youth have access to the information they need to lead healthy lives and to have fulfilling relationships.
The world is rapidly changing and, due to the internet, youth are exposed to sexual content at an inappropriate age. Everything in SB 5395 follows “age appropriate” standards in accordance with state law.
As always, parents will be notified when and what curricula will be taught, decisions and control will remain at the district level, and parents can opt their students out of the program if they so desire. However, I sincerely hope most parents join me in fully opting in.
Jessica Lucht is a mother in Spokane and education program manager for Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.