Mandatory K-12 sex education clears a key hurdle on its way to a House vote

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A controversial bill to require comprehensive sex education for all students – kindergarten through 12th grade – in Washington state was narrowly approved by the House Education Committee on Thursday.

It now goes to the full House after earlier being approved by a 28-21 vote in the Senate.

Republican Education Committee members Mike Steele of Chelan and Alex Ybarra of Quincy, voted against the bill, which passed by a 9-8 vote.

The House Education Committee added two amendments to Senate Bill 5395, meaning if approved in the House the differences will need to be reconciled with the Senate.

The Senate also approved the bill last year but it failed to make it to a vote of the House.

The committee rejected nine other amendments, including several supported by Steele and Ybarra.

One of those voted down would have remove kindergarteners through sixth graders from the instruction.

“You know, if you’re in kindergarten you have things you need to learn about being a good human being, about being a compassionate human being, learning not to bully folks, those are things we should be spending our time on,” Steele said. “This amendment simply says we’re going to unwrap comprehensive sexual education from grades K through 6. That makes a lot of sense and I think you’ll have a lot more support from parents throughout the state.”

But committee chair Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos of Seattle said the earlier instruction is tied into what will be taught later.

“It’s like a game of Jenga,” she said. “When you remove the building blocks that are at the lowest point of the tower that you’ve built, then you actually increase the risk of the entire structure falling down.”

Another rejected amendment would have required parents to opt in their children for the instruction, meaning the student would not have received the instruction without parents first approving.

Several legislators, including Steele and Ybarra, said that would lead to more engaged parents.

“As a school board member for eight years in my hometown I always wanted the parents to know more about what we do at the school district,” Ybarra said. “And if you do opt in as a parent I would think you’d want to know what you’re opting into.”

An amendment that was approved by the committee requires schools to tell parents at the beginning of the school year that they’ll be teaching comprehensive sex education.

The district also must provide electronic access to all course materials, by grade, that will be taught.

The committee also changed the start date for grades 7-12 from the beginning of the 2020-21 school year to 2021-22. Instruction for K-6 students would start in the 2022-23 school year.

Sen. Brad Hawkins voted against the bill in the Senate but did get an amendment passed that would allow parents to opt their children out of the classes.

It was the only amendment approved in the Senate.

Hawkins, a 12th District Republican, also polled his constituents for their thoughts. There were 1,572 people who took his poll, with 980, or 62.34 percent opposed to the bill.

You can watch the full committee debate on the bill from Thursday on TVW here.