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Washington state court explains ruling in defamation case

UPDATED: Tue., Oct. 27, 2020

Associated Press

SEATTLE – The Washington state Supreme Court has dismissed a defamation case brought by Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal against his election opponent who stated Reykdal championed a policy that teaches “sexual position to fourth-graders.”

The court ruled 6-3 last week that Reykdal failed to prove the statement as “demonstrably false,” The Seattle Times reported.

His challenger, Maia Espinoza, made the statement in the state voter guide mailed to all registered voters based on a comprehensive sex education law also on the ballot in November.

The court initially ruled in August that Reykdal did not have the legal grounds to succeed in the defamation case, meaning the statement could stay in the voter guide. The written order released last week elaborated on the reasoning behind the ruling.

The opinion written by Chief Justice Debra L. Stephens said the statement is inflammatory but not false, and that Reykdal failed to prove defamation, which requires “actual malice” or was made knowing it was false.

If approved by voters, the policy would require school districts to adopt a sex education curriculum of their choice that meets state standards listed by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Espinoza’s statement refers to a book, “It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health,” which is listed in a handout for parents from one of nine curricula the state suggests for fourth and fifth graders, and contains cartoon images of a couple having sex, the opinion said.

“It is unlikely but truthful that the policy could result in unintentionally exposing fourth graders to depictions of, and thus ‘teaching’ them, different sexual positions,” it said.

Justices Steven González, Mary Yu and Raquel Montoya-Lewis disagreed with the ruling, arguing that the public school agency does not approve or recommend any particular curriculum for use under the law, but only reviews to see if curricula meet state standards.

“This book is not part of the teaching curriculum, and this record is bereft of any hint OSPI is recommending teachers use it to teach,” González said, adding that Reykdal met the standard for defamation.

“While I disagree with the court’s majority, this case was about only one example of my Republican opponent’s alarming pattern of personal dishonesty,” Reykdal said.

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