This fall, voters in the State of Washington are being asked to vote on Referendum Measure 90. This Referendum was created in response to Senate Bill 5395 which was recently passed by our Legislature that changes the law about sexual health education. It requires public schools provide comprehensive, age appropriate, sexual health education to grades K-12. It also requires that curricula used be approved by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. A group of people, concerned about the bill, put forth this referendum to repeal it.
The only sexual health education currently required in public schools in Washington State is education on HIV and AIDS prevention. School districts may choose to provide more comprehensive sexual health education and, if they do so, it must be medically and scientifically accurate and be consistent with current guidelines.
Senate Bill 5395 requires that all school districts provide “recurring instruction in human development and reproduction that is age-appropriate and inclusive of all students”. The curricula used must meet guidelines that have been expanded to include topics such as giving and receiving consent, respectful and effective communication, understanding outside influences such as the media, and the development of meaningful relationships and the avoidance of exploitative relationships. And, as is currently the case, information must be medically and scientifically accurate.
Both current law and Senate Bill 5895 allow parents and legal guardians to choose to exclude their students from sexual health education.
With Senate Bill 5395, Washington State is taking a bold step to ensure all the children and youth in our state have factual and comprehensive information about this very important topic.
You may be wondering why a church would be interested in sexual health education. Did you know that our denomination has been supporting and providing sex, sexuality, and sexual health education for 50 years? In 1970 the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) published a curriculum for middle-school aged children called “About Your Sexuality” (AYS). It was groundbreaking in that it spoke openly and honestly about anatomy, gender identity, relationships, sexual health, and intimacy. At a time when our country was in the midst of a “sexual revolution,” AYS helped our youth navigate their own sexuality and sexual development with factual information, and an understanding that sexuality is a natural and healthy part of being human.
In the late 1990’s, the UUA, in partnership with the United Church of Christ, created a new comprehensive sexuality education curriculum called “Our Whole Lives” (OWL). OWL recognizes that we are sexual beings from the day we are born until the day we die. Age-appropriate curriculum was developed to address the needs of a variety of age groups: Kindergarten-1st grade, Grades 4-6, 7-9, and High School. They even developed a curriculum for Adults. And, since the original series was published, they have added Young Adult OWL, and a version for Senior Adults. We teach OWL to many different age groups because it is important that we provide developmentally appropriate information. What a child in kindergarten needs to know about sexuality and sexual health is very different from what a teenager needs to know. For instance, a kindergartener learns about the proper names for different body parts whereas a teenager needs to understand how those body parts work. And some topics are important for all ages such as knowing that one has a say in who can touch their body and what to do if someone is touching them in ways that are uncomfortable or harmful.
As the OWL program provides comprehensive sexuality education to all ages, it also affirms our values as Unitarian Universalists.
- We value education and knowledge and telling the truth. When we are armed with good, factual information, we can make better decisions about our lives.
- We seek to respect all people and all that they are. This includes their sexuality.
- We are a people of principle and conscience, and we work towards justice, equity, and compassion for all people. In a world where people are discriminated against, or targets of violence because of their gender identity or sexual orientation, expanding understanding of all the ways we express who we are to the world is an act of social justice. Reproductive justice, prevention of sexual violence, and inequities found at the intersection of racism and sexuality are all areas that need our attention and our voices.
- Just as we recognize the important role of parents as their child’s primary religious educator, we recognize that parents are their child’s primary sexuality educator. However, by providing opportunities for learning, we are supporting families and creating community.
For many of us, our own education about sexual health was severely lacking. I think about how different my life might have been had I had a program like OWL or another comprehensive sexual health curriculum available to me in my formative years. I may have understood better about the changes happening to my body. I may have had better knowledge to make informed decisions as I began dating. I may have had more confidence in myself as I grew into adulthood. This is why I have a passion for the OWL program, and why I wholeheartedly support it being a part of the Religious Exploration Program at TUUC.
By approving Referendum 90 which allows the implementation of Senate Bill 5395, we have a chance to make sure all children and youth in Washington State have access to comprehensive sexual health education. It is a great gift we give the children at TUUC through our OWL program and we now have the opportunity to provide this valuable gift to children throughout the state.
Nancy Slocum, Director of Religious Exploration for Children and Youth