Constituents blew up the phone lines and stuffed the inboxes of the House Democrats after yesterday's revelation that Rep. Santos was holding up a comprehensive sex ed bill, but as of today Santos has not yet scheduled a vote on the legislation in the House Education Committee. And this is despite the fact that she's signed on as a co-sponsor to the House's companion bill.
Two constituents who called Santos's office said an aide told them the major blockade was House Speaker Frank Chopp telling Santos he wouldn't bring the bill to the floor. Santos's office has yet to return two requests for comment from The Stranger.
This morning a spokesman for the House Democrats told me that “leadership is discussing the bill again today, and will be talking with Rep. Santos and caucus members about the policy before the cutoff deadline on Wednesday, April 3.”
That's not exactly a promise that the bill will make it out of committee, but maybe that "discussion" between Chopp and Santos will allow them to figure out who they want to blame for delaying this vote until the last minute, if they vote on it at all.
Mandating comprehensive sex education statewide should not be controversial. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, studies show that these programs "reduce the rates of sexual activity, sexual risk behaviors (eg, number of partners and unprotected intercourse), STIs, and adolescent pregnancy" while studies on abstinence-only sex education reported "no significant impact on teen sexual activity" and "no differences in rates of unprotected sex" compared with students who received no formal education.
As the Seattle Times points out, 24 other states plus D.C. already require schools to teach some form of sex ed, and it's time for Washington to catch up with the likes of Maine and fucking West Virginia.
Based on survey data taken every two years by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, 40 percent of school districts in Washington state are not covering sex education at all.
Meanwhile, according to the most recent Healthy Youth Survey, 36 percent of Washington's girls say they were sexually assaulted by the time they graduated high school. And state superintendent Chris Reykdal says we're seeing STIs exploding upward again in our teens.
"We can't ignore the data," Reykdal said over the phone. "The message of healthy relationships and healthy sexual activity is not getting heard because we think it's not getting taught."
Though Reykdal admits the state has done a good job reducing teen pregnancy rates, he says the entire burden has fallen on girls to get birth control, which means boys aren't getting taught their role in contraception and in fostering healthy and safe relationships.
Opponents of the bill, according to the Seattle Times, argue that parents should be in control of their child's sexual education. They also say school districts have trouble keeping up with all the mandates the legislature imposes on them.
As for the former complaint, Reykdal says those who perceive sex ed as a morality issue fail to see it as a public health crisis. "We need to teach it, but I always respect a parent's right to opt out. We have kids wave out of P.E. all the time, but we're still required to have P.E., so that's the balance," he said.
Reykdal also argues that districts should not be struggling to keep up with mandates from the state. "We mandate that Math, Science, and Language Arts be taught as a matter of creating a successful, whole child-learner, and it's time that this element of it be expanded," he said, referring to comprehensive sex ed.
"These kids need it, they tell us they need it through surveys, and you can't look at the data that says 1/3 of our girls are being sexually assaulted and believe that the status quo works," Reykdal added.
If you want to give Chopp or Santos any more information about the benefits of telling kids to ask partners before they have sex with them, here's their contact information.
Chopp's office phone: (360) 786-7920. E-mail.
Santos's office phone: (360) 786-7944. E-mail.