When your ballot arrives in the next week or so, I hope you look all the way to the end, to a measure that more than a quarter of a million voters petitioned to put before you for your serious consideration and oversight.
It’s called Referendum 90, and it asks whether you think Washington state should impose its first-ever mandated educational curriculum. It so happens that the state isn’t requiring math, science, civics or even reading.
No, our state’s first ever mandated curriculum, requiring all school districts to adopt stringently pre-approved curricula, is called comprehensive sexual health education, with specific standards set by state bureaucrats and imposed on every school district in the state, without exception.
“We have an unelected group in Olympia who are making these standards and can change them on a whim,” said Mindie Wirth, campaign chair for Parents of Safe Schools. She led a remarkable petition drive this spring and summer that set a state record for signatures received — and all done during a pandemic, without paid signature gatherers.
Clearly this is an issue that resonates. The message got through that this new law goes far beyond the birds-and-the-bees education that schools have taught for decades. This is sexuality education and indoctrination, according to Kelsi Hamilton, a Chehalis mother who helped collect more than 1,000 signatures this spring to get the law onto the ballot for voter review.
“I don’t think they’re appropriate,” Hamilton said about the standards and the curricula that the state currently has approved. “To me they’re overly sexual, and I feel this is sexualizing our kids at too early of an age.”
Katherine Fenn, a mother, farmer and longtime member of the Boistfort School Board in west Lewis County, is also opposed.
“As a school board member, it is just more loss of local control, in what has been a steady erosion,” Fenn told me recently. “If we just taught some basic biology, wouldn’t we cover what needs to be covered at school?”
According to the law that’s now up for the referendum vote, schools would need to go far beyond that.
Our state has 127 “sexual health core ideas” (you can read them at www.bit.ly/WA-Sex-Ed-Standards). Senate Bill 5395, as requested by Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal, passed on a party-line vote by the Democratic majority in the Legislature, and signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee, requires that “comprehensive sexual health education must be consistent with” these standards.
However, as it became clear that public concerns over the bill were leading toward a massive referendum signature drive, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction suddenly offered “guidance” that said those learning standards are optional.
It leads one to be concerned that in the future, once the pressure of a public vote is off, that this guidance could change.
The bill contains a curious provision that theoretically offers local school districts the ability to create or choose their own curriculum — but that also gives the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction final veto over what local districts submit.
And that’s assuming districts have the money, time and will to create their own curricula — an expensive, complicated and time-consuming process.
A far easier option is for districts to choose one of several options that OSPI has already pre-approved — but those options present their own problems. Some of the materials that are part of the educational materials are not fit to be printed in a family newspaper.
Concerned parents have paid the money to buy these curricula and review them. They’ve posted some of the most objectionable material at www.informedparentsofwashington.com under the “Curricula” tab.
Big boosters of the bill, including Planned Parenthood, have given more than a million dollars to convince voters that the state’s first-ever mandated curriculum should be wide-ranging sex ed, starting in grade school.
Parents and families, like those with Parents of Safe Schools, who oppose the bill, are fighting it with just a fraction of those funds. They’re also fighting a dominant narrative that this unprecedented mandate is little more than the same old sex ed that has been in schools for decades. That frustrates Wirth, who said most news stories miss the point that “comprehensive” sex ed goes much further than what many families and communities can support.
“What has been so frustrating in the media coverage, every time they talk about it, they read the same talking points, that ‘it’s a routine sex ed bill,’” Wirth said. “Come on guys. If this were routine, we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now.”
Brian Mittge is a proud supporter of public schools who can’t support R-90. Contact him at email@example.com.