With Referendum 90 being handily approved by Washington voters in the recent elections, school districts across the state will soon be required to teach “comprehensive” sexual education to students of various ages by the 2022-2023 school year.
But while some schools may have a lot of planning to do in the next year, the Enumclaw School District appears to be on the ball; much of the sex-ed the district already teaches meets the standards set by Senate Bill 5395, which is the bill Ref. 90 was asking voters to either approve or reject.
“Even for the older kids, there’s not a lot changing,” said Jill Burnes, the district’s head of curriculum. “There’s one piece in the law that requires us to include the affirmative consent and bystander training. I haven’t had an opportunity to do this yet, but one of things we’ll be doing is inventorying the content that’s taught in middle school and secondary [school] to be sure that’s included… if it’s not included, that component will have to be folded in.”
“Affirmative consent,” as the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction puts it, is not the absence of a “no” but the presence of a “yes”, whether it comes to horse play, hugging, or sexual contact.
Bystander training is about teaching students how to intervene when they see anything from bullying to sexual harassment or unwanted sexual activity.
In general, Burnes continued, the district will continue teaching sex-ed the way it has for years.
Under SB 5395, sexual education is supposed to start in kindergarten through third grade — though both OSPI and Burnes make it very clear that no sexual content is given to these students. Instead, the curriculum at this level is all about how to manage feelings and get along with others.
“We do all those already,” Burnes said. “K-3 right now really focuses on self-esteem, which is really positive self-talk and your strengths and your weaknesses, like knowing yourself; body image… which is understanding body shapes and sizes are different, and how do you have a positive body image; and then they do stress management, which is how to manage your emotions.”
Fourth grade is a little more mature, but receives little, if any, actual information about sex; fourth grade girls go through a unit on puberty, and all students talk about good hygiene, Burnes said.
Fifth grade students also go through another puberty unit (including boys this time), but it’s also the grade where they’re first likely to hear the word “sex” from a teacher — that’s because fifth grade is when students are taught about HIV and AIDS.
To teach these children about HIV and AIDS, the Enumclaw School District uses the KNOW curriculum, which was developed by OSPI and updated in 2014.
Though the goal of KNOW is to prevent the spread of various sexually transmitted infections and diseases, it’s virtually impossible to teach the topic without mentioning sex to students.
But that doesn’t mean teachers are left to their own discretion in determining how this is appropriately done.
For example, the curriculum includes training on how teachers can avoid answering “values questions” inappropriately.
“Questions about value-laden topics can be challenging for teachers at first glance. These questions may be directly about values, or they may be about topics that people have strong values about,” reads the fifth and sixth grade KNOW curriculum packet, which is available on OSPI’s website.
Training splits various values into two categories: “universal” and “non-universal.”
“Relatively UNIVERSAL values are those shared by 95% of families. The teacher should feel comfortable, and is in fact, obligated to teach these values,” the packet reads, adding that universal values include forcing someone to have sex is wrong; knowingly spreading disease is wrong; sex between adults and children is wrong; adultery is wrong; and that it’s safest and healthiest for school-age kids not to have sex.
“NON-UNIVERSAL values are those without consensus in the community. The teacher should not express a particular belief about these issues. Expressing their own personal values might hurt or offend a child and their family,” the packet continues, adding that non-universal values include topics such as abortion, birth control, masturbation, homosexuality, sex outside of marriage, and what age it’s acceptable to start having sex.
Teachers are also trained how to answer questions about sexual technique, such as a student asking a teacher, “How do people have sex?”
“If you think the question is really asking for information on how to perform sexual acts, let the class know that teachers, school nurses, etc. don’t give sex advice,” the KNOW curriculum reads. “Instead, use the student’s question as an opportunity to give accurate information about the topic in general.”
An example of giving accurate information to that question would be like this, the curriculum continued: “This question comes up every year. Let me give you a basic medical definition of the three main kinds of sex: vaginal sex is when the penis is in the vagina; anal sex is when the penis is in the butt; and oral sex is when the mouth is on the genitals. People can get HIV from all 3 types of sex, especially vaginal and anal sex, if the person they are having sex with already has HIV.”
According to OSPI, research on students receiving comprehensive sex education “are more likely to delay having sex, and more likely to have fewer partners and use protection when they do have sex,” reads the department’s webpage on SB 5395.
SIXTH THROUGH TWELTH GRADE
The Enumclaw School District continues to use the KNOW curriculum for grades six through twelve, as well as another curriculum known as “FLASH,” which was developed by Public Health — Seattle and King County.
“FLASH lessons prepare students to: Successfully navigate puberty; abstain from sex; use condoms and birth control when they do have sex; confirm consent before engaging in sexual activity; report sexual abuse and assault; communicate with their family about sexual health and dating; make decisions that minimize risk to their sexual health; [and] seek medical care in order to take care of their reproductive health,” a King County webpage reads.
Sixth graders repeat puberty and HIV/AIDS units, but this time, they also go over reproductive anatomy and how to prevent pregnancy.
There’s no sex-ed unit for seventh graders, but eighth graders review the topics they went over two years previous, as well as begin talking about dating and relationships.
Grade nine basically reviews the past two units, Burnes said.
“We don’t have anything required for [grades] 10, 11, or 12 right now,” she continued. “And according to [SB 5395], comprehensive sex education must be taught… twice to students grades 9 through 12, so we are going to have to add a unit in for high school beyond the 9th grade.”
It doesn’t appear that abortion is a topic that is covered in either the KNOW or the FLASH curriculum.
“I don’t have that listed as any of our topics right now… that’s not to say that it doesn’t come up,” Burnes said. “Teachers can do their best to answer a question for somebody, or refer them to somebody that might be able to answer it, but we don’t have any specific standards or curriculum in regards to that.”
ALERTING PARENTS, OPTING OUT
Burnes said many parents may want to review any and all sex-ed curriculum before it’s taught to their children.
Typically, the Enumclaw School District will send out a letter to parents about the curriculum long before the sex-ed lessons begin.
“They typically get about three weeks… for parents to review. You can watch all the videos, you can read all the printed materials,” Burnes said, adding that “parents still have the opportunity to opt out.”
The same would go for if the district decided to start teaching a different sex-ed curriculum.
“If we do decide at some point to select a different curriculum, as always, we would have a review process, and that’s extensive and the public has an opportunity to weigh in on that as well,” she continued.