OLYMPIA — The state Senate has passed a bill requiring public school districts to provide age-appropriate comprehensive science-based sexual health education.
The bill was referred to the House Education Committee on Thursday.
Parents and guardians can have their children excused from the sexual health curriculum through filing written requests with either the school district’s board or the school’s principal, according to the bill.
The curriculum would help protect children, said Sequim Democrat Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, who voted in favor of the bill.
“There are children in our schools right now who are being targeted for molestation,” he said. “There are young women who will face sexual coercion or assault. They need access to objective, scientifically-based information that will help them make smart decisions for a safer and healthier future.”
Van De Wege is one of three legislators representing District 24, which covers Clallam and Jefferson counties and part of Grays Harbor County. Others are Reps. Mike Chapman, D- Port Angeles, and Steve Tharinger, D-Port Townsend.
It has been the law since 2007 that any sex education presented in public schools must be scientifically accurate, but this is the first time the state Legislature has a bill to require it, said Van De Wege, who added that some 60 percent of high schools and 30 percent of middle schools now offer such curriculum.
The bill says that sex education must be phased in, beginning with students in sixth through 12th grades, by Sept. 1 of this year and fully phased in, with curriculum for kindergartners through fifth-grade student, by Sept. 1 2021.
The curriculum would have to be approved by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, which is directed to prepare a list of programs as well as tools districts can use to develop a program that is not on the OSPI list.
Abstinence can be included but not taught to the exclusion of other instruction on contraceptives and disease prevention, the bill says.
The Family Life and Sexual Health (FLASH) program opposed by some people is only one of the programs available, Van De Wege said.
Chapman plans to vote for the bill, saying that it allows “some flexibility for school districts. They can put together something that will work for them.
“We’ve seen an incredible rise in STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) among students and many health professionals feel it’s because of a lack of education,” he added.
Chapman is the primary sponsor of a bill that would allow counties to establish standalone funds for veterans.
It would allow veterans assistance levies separate from a county’s regular property tax levy, so that a county could provide more to veterans without dipping into its general fund.
The bipartisan bill was referred to the Senate Local Government Committee on Friday.
Tharinger has introduced a bill to streamline aspects of the Affordable Housing Trust Fund administered by the state Department of Commerce.
He said he also has a task force panel working on the issue of permitting and licensing for child daycare and early learning opportunities.
As for filling funding gaps brought about by the passage of Initiative 976 — which cuts car tabs to $30 — all three legislators said they are working to move money around so that projects now in the pipeline will not be delayed.
Those include the Elwha Bridge rebuild, the Morse Creek curve work and the Shine-state Highway 104 roundabout.
Chapman said the worst effects are likely to be seen for Transit services.
“We’ll have to back fill the loss of Transit funds,” he said.
For more information on bills, see http://leg.wa.gov/.
Executive Editor Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3530 or at [email protected].