Opinion: Public deserves honest information on sex education

The Washington comprehensive sex education bill passed in the Senate on March 7.

Sen. Claire Wilson, D-District 30. File photo

Sen. Claire Wilson, D-District 30. File photo

By Sen. Lisa Wellman and Sen. Claire Wilson

In nearly seven hours of floor speeches in the House and Senate this session, a vocal minority argued vociferously against legislation to require comprehensive sexual health education in all public schools. Though the speakers claimed to address the curriculum, many of their comments were so outlandish that we feel obliged to set the record straight on this important new law.

In an irony that would be comical if the consequences weren’t so serious, the speeches demonstrated the very need for the legislation — in lieu of factual, science-based information, the public is at the mercy of misinformation from unreliable sources.

One of the most ridiculous claims is that the curriculum would “sexualize” young students by teaching them sexual skills. This is a blatant falsehood.

At each grade level, the curriculum is age appropriate. The curriculum for younger students focuses on basic concepts such as stranger danger, good touch bad touch, and using your words instead of your hands. The importance of this curriculum cannot be overstated.

When teachers discuss “good touch bad touch,” it’s not uncommon for a student to raise a hand and say, “I’ve been touched like that.” What follows is typically a private interview with the teacher and the notification of Child Protective Services.

Sometimes there’s nothing to worry about. More often, CPS finds the child has not been molested but is in the early stages of being groomed — and begins monitoring to protect the child from suspected pedophiles.

In older grades, the curriculum focuses not on the graphic sex acts its opponents allege but on how to help students recognize and resist abusive or coercive behavior; the medical and economic implications of their choices; and how to make sound decisions about their health and future. Perhaps most importantly in this #MeToo era, they are taught about affirmative consent and how to resist peers who pressure them for sex.

Some opponents seem so fixated on the word “sexual” that they exaggerate its emphasis in the curriculum, with one group going so far as to call the legislation “SeXXX Ed” in an obvious effort to spur outrage. But if any word deserves additional emphasis, it should be “health,” as the curriculum is more accurately described as education about student health and the ramifications of sexual actions — from the stress of an unplanned pregnancy to the potentially lifelong effects of an STI.

It’s also about teaching what healthy relationship behavior looks like. As two King County senior deputy prosecuting attorneys maintain in a recent op-ed, this is the kind of education that can help prevent sexual and domestic violence.

Another frequent refrain of opponents, and equally spurious, is that the legislation suspends parental control and forces children to attend sex education classes. To be clear: any child can opt out at parental request, and parents have the same rights they have always had to review materials and work through their local school boards to oversee their children’s curriculum.

With similar mendacity, opponents suggest the legislation introduces a radical new curriculum to encourage sexual activity. But there’s nothing new or radical about this except their efforts to mislead and manipulate parents.

Many people are unaware that comprehensive sexual health education is already taught in many school districts across the state. In Federal Way public schools, for example, students have received comprehensive sexual health education for years. There’s been no uproar or alarm in Federal Way, or in other school districts, because the age-appropriate curriculum is non-controversial and effective.

We’re aware that some parents have strong feeling about this law. These same parents deserve to be given accurate, truthful information about the curriculum their children will be taught.

Sen. Lisa Wellman (D-Mercer Island) and Sen. Claire Wilson (D-Auburn) are the chair and vice chair of the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee.


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