State bill would require comprehensive sex education in public schools

OLYMPIA, Wash. - A proposed bill is looking to require all public schools to provide comprehensive sexual health education as part of their curriculum.

The bill was requested by superintendent of public instruction, Chris Reykdal.

Currently, schools across Washington state have the option to use the Family Life and Sexual Health curriculum, or FLASH, which is widely used from elementary to high schools to teach students about teen pregnancy prevention, sexually transmitted disease and sexual violence.

“It’s vital lifelong information,” said Stacy Stanaway, a mother of five and a sexual victim’s advocate expert.

She says she supports sexual health education in schools, but says everyone’s point should be heard before mandating a program state wide.

Senate Bill 5395 aims by 2020 to have every public school provide comprehensive sexual health education that is evidence informed, medically and scientifically accurate and inclusive for all students.

“This is really about making sure we’re looking at science, what biology tells us and making sure our children are exposed to education that has gender inclusive language. And also about teaching about consent and what a healthy relationship looks like,” said Sen. Manka Dhingra, a Democrat from the 45th district.

She is one of the 17 Democrats supporting the bill. She says parents should have conversations at home with their kids but that it is critical for all schools in the state to have a consistent program.

Those opposing it, like representative Vicki Kraft, a Republican from the 17th legislative district, says taxpayer dollars shouldn’t fund this kind of education and that the FLASH curriculum is already too graphic and this comprehensive version would add to it even more.

“Resources could be made available, but it’s the parents place to teach this. Making sure families can teach their values to students, not the public education system teaching its values to students,” said Kraft.

For parents who are trying to navigate how much kids already know, Stanaway says she is constantly surprised by what her young daughter already asks her, and that it is a delicate balance of being age appropriate and realistic about today’s generation.

“It’s a different time, and that’s the biggest piece. We’re in a new generation. Technology is going crazier. Our children are speeding sexuality up. And we as parents and a community need to come together to address this issue,” said Stanaway.

The bill would allow parents to opt out of the program by filing a written request with the school.