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Washington voters approve comprehensive sex ed with Referendum 90

UPDATED: Tue., Nov. 3, 2020

Cherry trees bloom next to the Capitol building in Olympia, Washington, on March 23, 2020. Earlier this year, legislators passed a bill requiring that public schools teach comprehensive sex education. Those opposed to the rules gathered enough signatures to let voters decide the issue on the November ballot in the forum of Referendum 90.  (Elaine Thompson)
Cherry trees bloom next to the Capitol building in Olympia, Washington, on March 23, 2020. Earlier this year, legislators passed a bill requiring that public schools teach comprehensive sex education. Those opposed to the rules gathered enough signatures to let voters decide the issue on the November ballot in the forum of Referendum 90. (Elaine Thompson)

Public schools in Washington will be required to teach comprehensive sexual health multiple times during a student’s K-12 education after voters approved Referendum 90, according to Tuesday’s early results.

The vote was split about 60-40 in Tuesday’s first vote count.

The referendum sparked a bitter debate throughout Washington since it was first put on the ballot in June. Opponents of the sex ed bill that passed last session gathered more than 266,000 signatures to bring the question to voters in November.

The bill, which was signed by Gov. Jay Inslee in March, would require all school districts in Washington to teach comprehensive sexual health education multiple times throughout a child’s K-12 education. Students would be taught inclusive, age-appropriate sex ed once in kindergarten through third grade, once in grades 4-5, twice in grades 6-8 and twice in grades 9-12.

Students in kindergarten through third grade are taught social-emotional learning consistent with standards set by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The bill also requires students learn about affirmative consent, or the conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity as a requirement before sexual activity, as defined in the bill.

In a review of curriculum at public school districts in Spokane, The Spokesman-Review found that many school districts wouldn’t have to change that much if Referendum 90 passed.

Spokane Public Schools wouldn’t have to change anything, as it already follows the requirements laid out in the new law. Central Valley and Mead will likely only have minor changes, such as the consent addition. Other smaller districts may need to make at least one major change or begin teaching sex ed, if they have not been doing so yet.

Supporters say the bill will give all Washington students equal access to sex ed, protect students from sexual abuse and harassment, and help them make healthier decisions.

“This is about the human rights and dignity of young people,” Courtney Normand of Planned Parenthood told The Spokesman-Review. “They are deserving of honesty and inclusion.”

Opponents say it’s so much more than that, arguing that the bill doesn’t provide enough local and parental control and teaches young students graphic information about sex. However, the lessons taught in kindergarten through third grade only require social-emotional learning, according to the bill. Nothing about sex is taught.

“For the state to come in and say they know better than parents about what is age-appropriate, that in itself is inappropriate,” Anniece Barker, of A Voice for Washington Children, told The Spokesman-Review in September.

A proposal to allow state money allocated for long-term care for residents to be invested in private stocks was failing in early vote totals Tuesday.

The measure asked voters if they wanted to add an amendment to the Washington Constitution that would allow the long-term care money to be invested privately.

Although the amendment passed in the Legislature, it must be ultimately be decided by voters.

The measure was within 5 percentage points on Tuesday, with more voters rejecting the proposed amendment than passing it.

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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