Washington State voters approved Referendum 90 on Tuesday, requiring public schools across the state to begin teaching comprehensive sexual health education to grade levels K-12.
It’s the first sexual education public school requirement in the U.S. to be determined by voters.
The law was originally passed as SB5395 through the Senate and signed by Governor Inslee in March, but voters pushed back and requested that the bill be placed on November’s ballot.
The referendum passed with 58.89% of the vote.
Washington State’s 295 public schools will need to either adopt the approved curriculum or create their own. Sexual education for grades 6-12 will begin in the 2021-2022 school year, and grades K-5 will be added the following school year.
Instruction is intended to be age-appropriate. Kindergarten through 3rd grade will receive “social and emotional learning”. The Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction(OSPI) defines “social and emotional learning” 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 life.”
OSPI has clarified that instruction for Kindergarten through 3rd grade will not include sexual content. Examples of social and emotional learning activities include an “Understanding Your Feelings” activity, practicing physical movement and mindfulness, and engaging in intentional family conversations.
Schools are required to notify parents of what will be taught, and parents are given the option to excuse their child from the instruction.
Grades 4-12 will be instructed on topics such as healthy behaviors and relationships, the avoidance of exploitative relationships, understanding peer influence on sexual relationships, affirmative consent, and bystander training.
The bill received wide support from the Governor, Democratic legislators, and organizations such as the ACLU, NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, and Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands.
The Republican Caucuses of the Washington State House and Senate, a handful of school districts, and organizations such as Family Policy Institute of Washington, Students for Life, and the Washington State Catholic Conference opposed the referendum.
Pramila Jayapal, a Democratic Congresswoman representing Washington State’s 7th district, celebrated the passage of Referendum 90 on Twitter.