Politics & Government

Legislature OKs accurate sex ed bill

Abstinence-only education would be prohibited in public schools that choose to teach sex education under a measure passed by the Washington Legislature.

After four hours of debate late Wednesday, the bill was approved 63-34 in the House and now heads to Gov. Chris Gregoire, who is expected to sign it into law. The measure passed the Senate last month after an equally lengthy but much more heated debate.

"Sex for our children without knowledge is a terrible choice," said Rep. Shay Schual-Berk, D-Normandy Park. "We must not allow fear to keep our children in ignorance."

" 'Just say no' shortchanges our children," she said.

Under the measure, schools that choose to provide sex education would be required to discuss abstinence with students, but could not teach abstinence without also instructing students about other aspects of sexuality, including the use of contraceptives.

Opponents argued the measure doesn't put enough emphasis on abstinence, doesn't require proper notification to parents, and takes local control away from the schools.

Three House Republicans crossed party lines and voted for the measure: Reps. Glenn Anderson of Fall City, Fred Jarrett of Mercer Island and Maureen Walsh of College Place.

Three House Democrats crossed over and voted no: Reps. Chris Hurst of Enumclaw, Troy Kelley of Tacoma and Mark Miloscia of Federal Way.

Many Republicans said they were not opposed to sex education, but did not want schools being told they had to teach it in a particular way or not at all.

"It's the state Legislature coming into my local school district where my kids go to school and telling them what they have to do," said Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, deputy minority leader. "It just seems so wrong to me, that we're so far overstepping our bounds."

More than 30 Republican amendments failed, including one to require any sex education program to spend as much time discussing abstinence as it would contraceptives, and another to require separating boys and girls in sex ed classes up to the seventh grade.

Some Republicans expressed fear about what information would be made available to children.

"We're talking about children," said Rep. Bob Sump, R-Republic. "I'm afraid that we will empower some of these children with this education at this early age. It's like giving your child a loaded weapon and saying, 'Go play.' "

But others argued it's likely children are already getting some information on sex, and that a specified program through the schools would ensure their information is accurate.

"Teaching teens about scientifically accurate sex ed will not cause them to have sex, because a great many of them are already having it," said Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, D-Seattle.

She told lawmakers that she went to a school without a sex education program and that up until college she thought "girls could get pregnant by sleeping next to boys."

"Ignorance is not bliss," she said.

New voluntary sex education guidelines adopted by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction in January 2005 outline medically and scientifically accurate sex education.

The measure passed by the House Wednesday makes those guidelines mandatory for schools that have sex education programs. Schools that only offer abstinence programs would have to increase their programs to include other aspects of sex education, or they could choose to offer nothing.

Some lawmakers said more schools may choose not to offer anything.

"I'm afraid schools will no longer offer sex education, and the results will be devastating," said Rep. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake.

HIV-AIDS education is mandatory in Washington, but general sex education is not. In the districts where the topic does come up - from grades 5 to 12 - state law mandates students be taught about abstinence, but teaching about birth control pills or other ways to prevent pregnancy is optional.

The bill defines "medically and scientifically accurate" information as that which is supported by research, is published in peer-review journals and is considered to be objective.

Under the measure, parents would be allowed to review the curriculum, and could keep their children out of the classes after filing a written request with the school board or principal. Senate Bill 5297

Regarding providing medically and scientifically accurate sexual health education in schools.