An important disclaimer.
An important disclaimer. Screenshot Washington State Voters' Pamphlet

At the Washington State Wire debate last night, superintendent of public schools candidate Maia Espinoza falsely claimed the comprehensive sex ed bill forces schools to teach “sexual positions to fourth graders.”

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This false claim drives the entire "Parents for Safe Schools" campaign, which aims to convince voters to reject a referendum on the sex ed bill that the campaign's supporters filed in the first place. And, of course, people on Facebook spread this falsehood around like wildfire.

Though a Thurston County judge already found the claim false, Espinoza continues to repeat this nonsense, and so now it's incumbent upon all who value truth in public discourse to shout it down.

The Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) and the Department of Public Health regularly review tons of sexual health instructional materials to determine whether those materials align with state law and K-12 learning standards. The agencies do not force school districts to use any of these materials, nor do they recommend that school districts use them. School districts use OSPI's review to make their own decisions about which curricula they want to use to teach kids about their health and about building healthy relationships.

One of the many curricula OSPI reviewed is called "Rights, Respect, Responsibility (3Rs)," published by an organization called Advocates for Youth. Advocates for Youth launched nearly 40 years ago with a mission "to promote effective adolescent reproductive and sexual health programs and policies in the United States and the global south."

One lesson plan intended for 4th graders includes a handout for "parents/caregivers" that lists resources where parents might find "important, age-appropriate information about puberty and how our bodies change during this time." The handout encourages those parents to "review" the resources before sharing with their children if they so choose.

The list, which, again, is for parents, includes Robie H. Harris's It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex and Sexual Health. Harris's book, intended for "ages ten and up," shows watercolor illustrations of different kinds of people having different kinds of sex—a practice conservatives have not traditionally embraced.

In 2017, OSPI decided the 3Rs curriculum was "consistent with state requirements."

Some allegedly concerned parents on Facebook learned of Harris's work and started posting photos of images from this book along with messages such as, "I'm showing you what 4th graders will be seeing because of this Washington state 'sex Ed" Bill that was passed. 4th graders!!!" Espinoza echoed this tone and the false claim in her very own voters' guide statement: "The incumbent ignored parents and educators by championing a policy that teaches sexual positions to 4th graders!"

The horror
The horror

Of course, these claims conveniently leave out the fact that 4th graders would only see these dopey cartoons of naked people if their parents chose to show them the book.

That's it. That's the whole origin of this false claim. In a sea of other "approved" curricula, OSPI "approved" one curriculum that included one puberty lesson plan for 4th graders that suggested on its list of supplemental materials for parents one book that includes goofy drawings of naked people, some of whom are having consensual sex. That fact enters the mind of Espinoza and other conservatives and comes out, "The school is teaching our 4th graders sex positions!!!"

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For extremely obvious reasons, that false claim spreads much more quickly than the truth.

Washington's age-appropriate, comprehensive sex ed bill, which passed last session despite a lot of weird Republican histrionics, aims to solve a real problem. As state superintendent of public schools Chris Reykdal argued during the debate last night, "1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys graduate from our school system having been sexually abused or assaulted in some form." The comprehensive sex ed bill would require all students to learn about affirmative consent, which will bring down those tragic numbers. As it stands now, 40% of school districts in Washington don't teach comprehensive sex ed, which leaves many kids in the dark.

If Republicans or "concerned parents" or confused conservatives really wanted to #savethechildren, they would demand voters approve Referendum 90 and allow the statewide sex ed bill to become law. Then we'd be caught up with 24 other states—some of them very conservative!—and Washington D.C., who already mandate statewide, age-appropriate, comprehensive sexual health education.

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