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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Truth-test: Misinformation surrounding R-90 continues to spread, so what exactly is true?

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)

In an ad he texted to voters, Dave Lucas, a Republican running for state Senate in central Spokane’s 3rd Legislative District, claimed to be the only state Senate candidate standing in opposition to what he called “mandatory graphic sex education.”

It’s not the first time Lucas has brought Referendum 90 into his campaign ads. Before the primary, Lucas sent a mailer that claimed the controversial sex-ed bill passed in the last session of the state Legislature would mandate graphic sex education beginning in elementary school, allow school districts to include sex ed in all subjects and deny parents and local districts the chance to decide what should be taught.

Lucas had not responded to requests for comment at the time of publication.

The bill sparked bitter debate across Washington and led opponents to get enough signatures to put R90 on the ballot. Supporters claim the bill will give all Washington students equal access to sex ed and help prevent sexual abuse and harassment. Opponents argue the bill doesn’t provide enough local and parental control, and teaches young students graphic information about sex.

Misinformation has been spread by political campaigns and supporters and opponents of the bill alike. Here are some of the common claims and what is true.

Claim: Lucas claimed the bill will require “mandatory graphic sex education.”

Truthfulness: Depends on what you consider graphic, but mostly false.

Analysis: Some parents and school districts may find certain curriculum too graphic, but the bill requires anything taught to be “age-appropriate.”

The law does require sex ed be taught once in kindergarten through third grade, once in grades 4-5, twice in grades 6-8 and twice in grades 9-12, but what is taught in each grade must be age-appropriate, as laid out in the bill. According to the bill, students in kindergarten through third grade must be taught social-emotional learning that is consistent with standards set out by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. OSPI’s guidelines define “social-emotional learning” as the ability to identify and express feelings, achieve goals and act responsibly when interacting with others, among other guidelines.

As students get older, they gradually learn more about puberty, reproduction, pregnancy, ways to prevent STDs and local resources for doing so, consent and societal pressures around sex.

Many opponents have taken issue with a piece of a specific curriculum, claiming it requires students to learn about sex positions.

The graphic images come from a supplemental material intended for parents to use, if they choose, to further the lessons at home.

Claim: Many supporters of the bill say not much will change with the new law.

Truthfulness: Depends on the school district, but mostly true.

Analysis: The biggest change with the new law is that every school district would be required to teach sex ed. The current law allows school districts to choose whether they want to teach it. However, school districts must follow specific requirements if they do teach it.

The guidelines in the current law are as follows:

  • The physiological, psychological and sociological developmental processes experienced by an individual.
  • The development of intrapersonal and interpersonal skills to communicate and choose healthy behaviors.
  • Health care and prevention resources.
  • The development of meaningful relationships and avoidance of exploitative relationships.
  • Understanding of the influences of family, peers, community and the media throughout life on healthy sexual relationships.

If Referendum 90 passes, the only addition to that list is: “Affirmative consent and recognizing and responding safely and effectively when violence, or a risk of violence, is or may be present with strategies that include bystander training.”

Some school districts already teach sex ed and follow all of those guidelines, including the additional affirmative consent piece. Spokane Public Schools is among the districts up to date.

Other schools, however, do not teach any sex ed or teach a very small portion of it as required in the state’s HIV/AIDS prevention requirement. Those schools will be required to phase in sex ed during the next three years.

According to the bill, those districts will work with OSPI to choose a curriculum or develop their own that fits with those guidelines.

Claim: Opponents say the bill does not allow for enough parental or local control.

Truthfulness: Mostly false.

Analysis: Many opponents worry the bill does not allow for parents or local school districts to decide what is taught to their students. While it is true every school district would have to teach sex ed, there is flexibility for what is chosen.

School districts get to decide what curriculum they want to use, according to the bill. OSPI has a list of reviewed curriculum on their site that meets the bill’s guidelines, but school districts also have the opportunity to work with OSPI and the community to create their own, according to the bill.

“We don’t have a final say,” said Laurie Dils, OSPI sexual health education program supervisor.

Parents can also opt their children out of the sex ed lessons. School districts must notify parents of when sex ed is being taught and give them the opportunity to review material. If a parent does not want their child in class that day, they may opt them out.

Claim: Some groups support the bill because they say the new law requires school districts to teach about gender identity and sexual orientation.

Truthfulness: Somewhat true.

Analysis: The bill requires curriculum to be “inclusive of all students, regardless of their protected class status.” However, there are no requirements to teach specifically about gender identities and sexual orientation at any grade level, Dils said, and that will remain the case if R90 passes.

Some districts, such as Spokane Public Schools, already teach about these issues.

Students begin receiving instruction about gender identities and sexual orientation in fourth grade under a new set of materials adopted by the Spokane Public Schools Board of Directors in June.

Instruction includes an animated video featuring various anthropomorphic fruits and vegetables comprising what’s called “a love salad,” with definitions not only for gay and lesbian orientations but also pansexual and asexual people.

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.