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Superintendent Reykdal addresses concerns over sex ed curriculum

With anxiety mounting online over the possible sex ed curriculum that would be implemented by House Bill 1407, the bill advancing through the Legislature that would mandate K-12 sexual education, Washington State Superintendent Chris Reykdal joined KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson Show to discuss the controversial measure.

Todd Herman, filling in for Dori, recently shared on Twitter (warning: explicit content) examples of comprehensive sexual education lessons being taught to second- and fourth-graders in other parts of the nation with graphic descriptions of what happens during sexual arousal.

A packet of proposed lesson plans for Washington from Advocates for Youth had the ability to “use proper names for body parts, including male and female anatomy” as a goal for second-graders.

Examples of sexually-detailed lesson plans used in California can be seen on the Facebook page for Informed Parents of Washington.

Reykdal said only age-appropriate subjects will be taught for each grade, beginning with identifying inappropriate touching for younger kids, and getting into reproductive health in fifth or sixth grade. High school classes will get into more complex subjects like sexual assault and STDs. He compared it to the way math builds on lessons learned in previous years, starting with basic addition and subtraction in first grade, and moving to calculus by senior year.

WA Superintendent Reykdal: Grades K-4 won’t teach sexual topics with sex ed bill

“The building blocks early on for kids are, ‘Do you have a safe adult you can talk to? Do you understand that your body is yours and yours alone?’ So this is a really important education thing,” he said. “And even though it’s really hard for some people to contemplate, and they go to this awful place and this presumption of what we’ll teach to young kids, it is age-appropriate.”

Reykdal told parents there is no official statewide curriculum in any subject. Curricula are submitted to the state and approved by his office, but which curricula are used in individual schools is determined by local school districts. Many of the sex ed curriculum materials being shown on social media from similar curricula in other states will likely not be used in Washington, he said. Some of these, he elaborated, are simply the lesson plans for the teachers, not meant to ever be handed out to students.

Additionally, he reminded residents, parents can opt their children out at any time.

“There are some folks who are deeply, deeply offended by this in our schools, and I respect that tremendously,” he said. “And we have allowed them to opt out, … but my job in schools isn’t to avoid certain subjects because there are different opinions.”

While testifying before the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee in 2019, Reykdal seemed to make a metaphor between schools refusing to teach sex ed and schools that might teach that the Earth is flat (see 58:00 in this video).

“I didn’t compare people directly to flat Earth, I said that we have a very diverse state,” Reykdal said. “And there are literally people in this state who still believe in the concept of flat Earth, and they deserve the right to believe that.”

Earlier this week, two eighth-grade girls from Curtis Middle School in University Place told the Dori Monson Show that one page in their sex ed textbook had explained how to get a female aroused and ready for sex. The two students, who testified against the bill in Olympia, said this sex ed curriculum made them feel uncomfortable and had led to sexual harassment and even groping from male classmates.

Reykdal said he was not familiar with that particular school’s curriculum, but that it did not sound like a wise decision for the age group.

“They’re making that decision locally — I think that’s, like anything, a function of whether the teacher is properly trained and whether they have distributed appropriate materials and followed our framework, which needs to be age-appropriate,” he said.

He added, “I have no doubt that we have English teachers, math teachers, P.E. teachers who make mistakes at times, and there will be folks who will make mistakes with this.”

Herman asked Reykdal if he would make the class an opt-in elective instead of an opt-out class, in which students would not take the class unless their parents opted to do so. The two students who previously joined the show said that opting out of sex ed classes was worse than sitting through them because kids who did so were bullied by other students.

“I think it’s a really interesting angle, I think it’s a really smart contemplation, and I hope legislators are thinking about that,” Reykdal replied.

Listen to the Dori Monson Show weekday afternoons from 12-3 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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