SB 5395 mandates comprehensive sex ed in Washington schools

Abigail Duchow, Senior Reporter

Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill on March 27 requiring comprehensive sexual education to be taught in public schools in the state of Washington. The bill will change how sex ed is taught in grades K-12.

Requirements of SB 5395

According to the bill, new sex ed curriculum must be evidence-informed and medically and scientifically accurate. The bill also states that the curriculum taught must be age-appropriate.

The bill requires that public schools teach sex ed that teaches students how to prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and unintended pregnancies. The bill also requires instruction that promotes healthy relationships, identifies and responds to sexual violence and emphasizes the importance of consent. 

The bill states abstinence cannot be the only method taught for preventing STDs and unintended pregnancies. Abstinence can be taught as a method of prevention, along with teaching about contraceptives and other disease prevention.

Schools will be able to choose which curricula they feel is best for their community. Schools will also have the option to develop their own curricula, as long as it meets the requirements of SB 5395.

Parents and guardians can choose to have their children excused from any sex ed taught in school. They may also request to review the curriculum that is going to be taught.

ASCWU Lobbyists

Zackary Turner, ASCWU VP for Legislative Affairs, has lobbied for the bill in Olympia from January until March. Turner thinks the bill will be helpful not only for grades K-12, but for everyone, including college students. 

“The way we think it impacts higher education is by teaching consent and healthy relationships,” Turner said. “We really believe that our students need to know about these things by the time they get to college. It’s something that will really help lower numbers of sexual assault and domestic violence on campus.”

Turner shared his experience with sex ed when he was in middle and high school.

“I’m a gay man. When I was in middle school, my sex ed teacher told me that gay people don’t exist … when she would address what sex for queer people looks like, she would make a lot of homophobic remarks.” Turner said, “I think that was really not helpful for me as a person, being told that being gay wasn’t normal.”

Turner said that his school district was among those that don’t teach students about condoms, abortions and other contraceptives and safe sex practices.

ASCWU Legislative Liaison Nancy Canales-Montiel also lobbied for the bill. She thinks the bill will help with keeping people safe and informed on how to stay healthy.

“Studies show repeatedly that sexual assault, violence and other things like teen pregnancy are linked to poor or abstinence-only sex educaiton,” Canales-Montiel said. “By implementing this and teaching children at a young age, they will grow up with a safer and healthier culture.”

Canales-Montiel said although these conversations may be scary for some, they are necessary for having a healthy and informed society. 

“It’s medically and scientifically accurate data that we must teach our society and our people so that we can live healthier lives,” Canales-Montiel said.“I don’t see a difference between a doctor telling you ‘eat healthy and exercise everyday’ and a sex ed teacher telling you to use preventative methods.”

Grades K-3 Curriculum

According to the Washington Office of Superintendent of Instruction (OSPI), curriculum for K-3 will not involve anything about sexual contact. Schools will be required to provide K-3 social emotional learning (SEL). SEL will teach students how to build skills in managing emotions, setting goals, establishing relationships and making decisions that support success. According to the OSPI’s website, most districts are already providing SEL. These changes will be implemented in the 2022-23 school year.

Grades 4-5 Curriculum

According to OSPI’s website, grades 4-5 will be taught about affirmative consent and bystander training. Affirmative consent is suggested to be taught in the context of hugging or horseplay. Bystander training will teach students how to safely intervene when they see sexual harassment or other similar instances. HIV and STD prevention must be taught starting no later than 5th grade. By the 2022-23 school year, public schools will be required to teach sexual education no later than 5th grade.

Grades 6-12 Curriculum

Beginning in the 2020-21 school year, public schools will be required to teach 6th-12th grade students about affirmative consent and provide bystander training. In these grades, teaching about affirmative consent is suggested by OSPI to be focused on hugs, physical contact and sexual contact. HIV and STD prevention will also be taught.