Sex education referendum first of its kind

Monday, October 5, 2020
Chris Woodward (

sex educationVoters in the state of Washington will soon decide the fate of a sex education program.

The program being voted on in November is a first-of-its-kind mandate for an education subject in Washington. The Evergreen State does not mandate core curriculum such as math, English, or science, but this comprehensive sex education program is required for public school students K-12.

"We're taking a one-size-fits-all approach to comprehensive sex ed and standards that have been essentially written by some unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats within our central office of the superintendent of public instruction in Olympia," says Mindi Wirth of Parents for Safe Schools, an organization that gathered signatures for the referendum.

Wirth would rather see parental and local community involvement in decisions involving curriculum.

"The other components here that are also problematic for voters is the curriculum itself," she adds. "There are topics that are covered that are very problematic to a number of people across Washington, and we are introducing the concept of affirmative consent at an age younger than by statute we consider the age of consent in Washington state."

There is an opt-out for students whose parents do not want them involved in this curriculum, but Wirth's organization also takes issue with that approach.

"This idea [that] you can just opt out is also troubling, because that means then that kids that end up getting opted out because their parents have objections or concerns with the content of the curriculum are getting no sex ed, and we don't want that either," she says, adding that Parents for Safe Schools is not an abstinence-only organization and that the majority of schools in the state are already teaching some form of sex education.

Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Washington state teachers' union are among the groups who support the comprehensive program.

Courtney Normand, director of a Planned Parenthood-affiliated political group in the state, told Associated Press her organization did not mobilize during the referendum petition drive because of the pandemic. They were dismayed that the opposition's in-person signature gathering took place despite Governor Jay Inslee's (D) stay-at-home order. 

"It seems to be a political, partisan turnout goal rather than really an intention about student safety," Normand said.


"We focused very heavily on getting petitions out in the mail," asserts Wirth. "We started with that, and then Washington Catholic Conference made an announcement … basically supporting signature gathering for Referendum 90 at churches in the parking lot."

Following that announcement, tents were set up at Catholic churches, and people would just show up, drive through, get a petition, sign it, "and our signature gatherers would wear masks and sanitize pens, although they often advertised as 'bring your own pen,'" Wirth adds.

On the ballot in November, the referendum will reveal the bill’s language and then ask, "Should this measure be rejected or approved?'"

"We are telling people ...  to reject it, because by rejecting it, it essentially means you are not acting on behalf of a lawmaker in saying I would not have voted for this bill if I was serving in the legislature," Wirth concludes.

According to Kiro7, this referendum marks the first time in the country that such a decision on sex ed will be decided by voters.


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