OLYMPIA, Wash. — A proposal for universal, all-grade sex education passed the state Senate Wednesday after extensive debate.
The proposal, which passed on a 28-21 vote, would require schools to teach sex education classes, and to include in the curriculum information about affirmative consent and how to recognize abusive relationships.
Minority Republicans opposed to the measure introduced more than a dozen proposed amendments, including proposals to block the classes from being taught to the youngest students, and succeeded in attaching a floor amendment allowing parents to opt their children out of the classes.
Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said the bill amounted to “imposing values from Seattle” on schools around the state, and warned that it would drive conservative parents to homeschooling.
Senate minority leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said the bill amounted to “sex ed for kindergartners.”
But Democratic lawmakers said the bill would foster awareness of healthy relationships and that classes would be age appropriate.
Sen. Claire Wilson, D-Auburn, the bill’s sponsor, said after the vote that she believed the concerns raised by Republicans over including the youngest students was sparked by fear.
For the youngest students, Wilson said, “We’re talking about things like touch, what’s good touch, what’s bad touch.”
Along with requiring the courses to be evidence-based, the bill would require schools to follow state guidelines that set out learning standards for each grade.
For kindergarteners, those standards dictate discussions about feelings and recognizing friends, along with safe versus unwanted touch, but do not include discussions of reproduction, STD’s, or puberty, which are reserved for later years.
With its embrace of affirmative consent, the proposal wades into a cultural controversy that the sponsor of the bill described as enmeshed in the Me Too movement.
That movement has seen waves of women come forward with personal stories of sexual assault or harassment in an effort to raise awareness of what is often described as gender-based power imbalance, including around what types of consent should be required before touching or sex.
Affirmative consent broadly refers to the argument that the absence of objection doesn’t count as consent, and that explicit agreement should be the standard instead.
“If people said ‘no,’ and people listened to the no, we wouldn’t be in this situation,” Wilson said.
About two-thirds of high schools in the state currently teach sex education classes along with a third of middle schools, according to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. The agency does not have a tally of how many elementary schools approach the subjects.
Wednesday’s vote sends the measure to the House for consideration.