The Trans Pride Seattle march crosses Broadway Street on Friday, June 22, 2018, near Cal Anderson Park in Capitol Hill. 
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The Trans Pride Seattle march crosses Broadway Street on Friday, June 22, 2018, near Cal Anderson Park in Capitol Hill.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Sex ed: Should it be a requirement in Washington state?

When Aren Wright was a freshman at Olympia High School, they asked their health teacher about dental dams and safe sex for lesbians.

Wright, who uses they/their pronouns, said their teacher said they wouldn’t be learning about that.

“She told me that dental dams were unnecessary because lesbian sex couldn't transmit any (sexually transmitted infections),” said Wright, now a sophomore. “This blatant misinformation is dangerous, and it ignores the needs of queer youth like me.”

Wright was testifying before the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee, in favor of a bill that would make sex education mandatory across the state.

In Washington state, 60 percent of school districts teach sex education. The bill would make it a requirement for all districts. If it passes, schools would also have to teach about consent: what constitutes an authentic “yes” to sex, and what constitutes sexual assault.

All middle and high schools would be required to teach sex education by fall 2020, and elementary schools by the following school year.

Kaeley Triller, a blogger and parent in Gig Harbor, has reservations about the bill.

Triller said that consent is common sense, but she would like other parts left to districts and parents.

“About sex in particular,” she said. “That's a really private matter for a lot of people, and it needs to be something that we as parents can introduce to our kids at their level when they're ready.”

Triller said there are some parts of sex education standards that people flat-out disagree with — like gender identity, which she called “far from settled science.”

“That's really, really controversial,” she said. “We have a lot of people from a lot of different faith perspectives, a lot of different ideas about what is actually true.”

Chris Reykdal, the state superintendent of public instruction, said parents like Triller are free to opt their children out of sex education lessons. Parents can opt out of anything, Reykdal said.

“We have parents who opt out of PE, and testing,” he said, “and I suppose there are still parents who want to opt out of some science because there’s a bunch of folks who deny climate change, for example.”

Reykdal said he supports parents’ right to opt-out.

But he said with sexual assault rampant, and sexually transmitted infections on the rise among teens, districts should not be allowed to opt out of sex ed.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate of school systems to void an important educational discussion because some parents aren’t comfortable with it,” he said.

The bill’s proponents argue that some of the areas of discomfort – the law’s inclusion of different gender identities and sexual orientations – makes it especially important.

Under the new law, districts would be required to either choose from a list of approved curricula – or choose their own, so long as it meets state standards.

Jessica Vavrus, of the Washington State School Directors’ Association, said that while many school boards consider sex ed valuable, for districts that don't currently offer it, it would take time and money to get community input, choose curricula, and train teachers.

“Their worry is that a timeline that is too ambitious could potentially have some things backfire on them, because people get scared in conflict,” Vavrus said.

The sex ed bill, having passed the Senate, is now before the House Education Committee.