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Get the Facts: FAQ About Washington’s New Sex Education Law

What is the legislation?

  • SB 5395 will:
    • Require all public schools in Washington to offer sex education that is comprehensive and medically accurate 

    • Require that any school’s selected curriculum be inclusive of the needs of students of all protected class statuses

    • Require components on affirmative consent and healthy relationships as part of the comprehensive sex education curriculum

    • Require school districts to report on the sex education they are providing so that our state can continue to improve the quality of programming in the future

What does the new law require for kindergarten through grade 3?

  • It appears the term “sex education” is being widely misunderstood and misconstrued when it comes to lower grade levels. Under SB 5395, schools are only required to provide instruction in social-emotional learning for grades K-3. There is no sexual content or sexuality content required for K-3 under SB 5395.
  • According to OSPI, “Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is broadly understood as a process through which individuals build awareness and skills in managing emotions, setting goals, establishing relationships, and making responsible decisions that support success in school and in life. When we think of educating the whole child, their social and emotional development must be considered as a part of overall instruction.”

I’ve seen odd examples being shared on social media. What’s that about?

  • There's an outrage machine that continues to misrepresent the new comprehensive sex education law to further politicize the issue.
  • False graphics and doctored images have been placed in circulation by opponents intent on shocking families into opposing sex education. This includes content intended for older youth that is intentionally conflated with materials meant for young children.
  • For example, there are frequent references to a book titled "It’s Perfectly Normal" purported as a required “textbook” for children as young as 4; this book is actually intended for age 10 and up and is not a required portion of any curriculum.

Shouldn't curriculum be tailored to each community?

Under SB 5395, school districts have the flexibility and freedom to adjust their instruction based on what they know about their students and what parents and community members tell them. School districts still have a wide array of curricula and titles to choose from. They can choose from OSPI’s list, choose something that was not included on the list, or design a curriculum of their own. School districts can select certain lessons and not others, modify language in lessons, and mix and match with selections from multiple different programs.

What does age appropriate mean?

  • What is taught grade by grade is already in the state’s learning standards and the new bill doesn’t impact that.
  • Washington has 8 required health education standards for skill-based learning. The standards provide grade level outcomes which serve as examples. Not all sexual health outcomes are required to be taught; rather, they serve as guidance to show what a good program could look like. Schools can opt to adopt the guidance fully if they want, or not. For example, schools can choose to wait until 4th grade to teach something that is listed in the standards for 2nd grade.
  • "Age appropriate" is not just a matter of opinion; it is documented grade by grade in our state’s K-12 Health & Physical Education Standards: Sexual Health starts on page 28:  https://www.k12.wa.us/sites/default/files/public/healthfitness/standards/hpe-standards.pdf 

What are some examples of the State Standards?

  • Kindergarten: Focus on “Demonstrate healthy ways to express needs, wants, and feelings” and “identify safe and unwanted touch” and “recognize characteristics of a friend.”
  • First Grade: “Describe how living things grow and mature.”
  • Second Grade: “Understand living things can reproduce.”
  • Third Grade: “Identify trusted adults to communicate with about relationships.”
  • Fourth Grade: “Understand physical, social, and emotional changes occur during puberty.”
  • Fifth Grade: “Manage physical, social, and emotional changes that occur during puberty” and “demonstrate appropriate interpersonal communication skills” and “apply decision-making skills to make a health-enhancing choice” and “identify trusted adults to ask questions about gender identity and sexual orientation.”

What has already been the law?

  • The right of parents to review the curriculum their school selects and opt their children out of any portion of the instruction.
  • The requirement that schools must notify parents when a curriculum will be taught with at least one month’s notice and make all materials available.
  • The requirement that local school districts must work with the community to determine the best curriculum for their needs, with the flexibility to determine what will best meet the needs of their students and families.

What is the curriculum?

  • There is no "One Size Fits All" approach when it comes to the curriculum that works best for each community in our state, which is why the legislation does not mandate the use of any single specific curriculum. 
  • Washington’s guidelines for sex education have been in place for over 15 years and are used to inform the state’s development of the list of reviewed, recommended curricula. The new law only expands instruction by requiring the inclusion of youth of all protected class statuses (e.g. LGBTQ, disability), by requiring instruction to span all grades, and by requiring instruction on consent and healthy relationships.
  • It is very important for school boards to make sure that they enact policies and select curricula that reflect the will of the public- and according to multiple public opinion studies, the will of the public is that every student be offered access to honest, accurate, and inclusive sex education.
  • OSPI is required to continue to regularly review curricula and add to the list of options. Their focus is to find a wide array of products that would fit for different communities.

Will my school district be changing its curriculum?

  • Starting in 2007, Washington’s Healthy Youth Act required that if schools opted to provide sexual health education, the curriculum they selected must be “medically and scientifically accurate, age-appropriate, and appropriate for students regardless of gender, race, disability status, or sexual orientation” and include information about abstinence as well as other methods of avoiding unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. SB 5395 builds upon the Healthy Youth Act by requiring all public schools to participate and offer sex education in grades K-12.
  • By OSPI’s estimate, 60% of Washington schools already offer sex education. If your school district was already providing sex education in compliance with the Healthy Youth Act, not much is likely to change. The most likely changes that could occur include adding grade bands, adding instruction on informed consent, and ensuring that instruction is inclusive of the needs of students of all protected class statuses.

What about parental notification and opt-outs?

  • Washington already requires school districts to involve parents and school district community groups in the planning, development, evaluation, and revision of any instruction in sexual health education offered as a part of the school program.
  • Washington law already requires schools to provide parents at least one month’s notice before teaching a program in sexual health education in any classroom or other school venue, provide notice to parents of the planned instruction, and ensure that the materials or course of study are available for inspection. This includes all formats of instruction related to sexual health education including, but not limited to written materials, guest speakers, classroom presentations, videos, and electronically formatted materials.
  • Under SB 5395, parents, caregivers, and students will still be able to find out from local decision-makers about how sex education is taught in their schools. This includes how often and when it is being taught, as well as what topics are being taught, what curriculum is being used, and who is teaching the program. 
  • Washington law already requires that any parent or legal guardian who wishes to have their child excused from any planned instruction in sexual health education may do so upon filing a written request with the school district board of directors or its designee and the board of directors is required to make available the appropriate forms for such requests. Alternative educational opportunities are required to be provided for those excused. The requirement to report harassment, intimidation, or bullying under RCW 28A.600.480 applies to this section.
  • Parents can still elect to opt their children out of instruction. This part of the law has already been operating successfully since passage of the Healthy Youth Act in 2007. The Senate passed a Republican amendment to SB 5395 clarifying that schools must grant opt-out requests, further strengthening this provision.

When will this legislation take effect?

Beginning in the 2021-22 school year, comprehensive sexual health education must be provided to all public school students in grades 6 through 12.

 How frequently will sex ed be taught?

  • Beginning in the 2022-23 school year, comprehensive sexual health education must be provided to all public school students, and no less than:
    • Twice to students in grades 9 through 12

    • Twice to students in grades 6 through 8 

    • Once to students in grades 4 through 5

    • Once to students in kindergarten through grade 3

Why is the legislation necessary to prevent sexual violence?

  • 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.  Sexual abuse has lifelong negative health impacts. 
  • The CDC has classified the prevalence of child sexual abuse as a public health crisis and identified that educating kids about how to protect themselves is an evidence-based prevention strategy.
  • In order to prevent sexual violence, coercion, and assault, young people need sex education that includes information and resources about consent and healthy relationships to help them understand how to ask for consent, respect personal boundaries, and learn how to say and receive a “no”. 

Why is this legislation necessary for reducing unintended pregnancy?

Access to sex education and sexual and reproductive health care services has been critical to helping teens stay safe and healthy. Rates of unintended pregnancy among teens in the U.S. have reached a historic low, and more young people are delaying sexual activity and using birth control when they do have sex.

Why is this legislation necessary for LGBTQ youth?

LGBTQ young people need sex education that addresses their identities and experiences, so that they have the information and skills they need to stay healthy. Sex education that is LGBTQ-inclusive also provides young people with opportunities to understand sexual orientation and gender identity in open, non-stigmatizing ways. 

How will this be funded?

  • Many school districts already manage curriculum adoption and development as they go. 
  • For at least thirteen years, OSPI has had an ongoing capacity to support schools with curriculum selection and design as well as technical support, professional development, and teacher training. Support is still ready and waiting.

Who supports this legislation?

  • Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction
  • Washington Department of Health
  • Governor’s Interagency Council on Health Disparities 
  • ACLU of Washington
  • Arc of King County
  • Cedar River Clinics
  • Disability Rights Washington
  • Equal Rights Washington 
  • Fuse WA
  • Gender Justice League
  • Legal Voice
  • Moms Rising
  • NARAL Pro-Choice Washington
  • One Love Foundation
  • PFLAG Washington State Council
  • Planned Parenthood Affiliates in Washington
  • Room One
  • Seattle-King County Public Health
  • Surge Reproductive Justice
  • The Justice for Girls Coalition of Washington State
  • The Mockingbird Society
  • Washington Education Association
  • Washington Student Association
  • 3 out of 5 Washington Voters 
  • And many, many more…