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Superintendent Reykdal says opponent’s statements about sex ed are ‘untrue’

Superintendent of Public Instruction, Chris Reykdal, explains the COVID-19 grading guidelines from the OSPI. (Screengrab from waOSPI YouTube)

Election Day is just five weeks away, when voters in Washington will cast their ballot for a number of statewide positions, including the head of education in the state.

Earlier this week, KIRO Radio’s Gee & Ursula Show spoke with Maia Espinoza, the candidate for superintendent. Chris Reykdal, incumbent superintendent, stopped by to respond to something Espinoza had said about the new sexual education curriculum in Washington.

Superintendent candidate says sex ed bill was ‘the tipping point’ for her campaign

Espinoza was previously quoted saying that her opponent, Reykdal, was pushing a sex ed bill that included drawings of sexual positions in the curriculum for fourth graders.

“That is true,” Espinoza told the Gee & Ursula Show. “And that’s also written in my voters’ statement. My opponent sued me over defamation for that statement and we won at the Supreme Court level. This is in line with the curriculum that is approved under this current administration. So it this is a handout, or I should say, a book listed in a handout as part of some of the curriculum. People would say, ‘well, this is kind of links in the chain to get to this material.'”

“But the point is, if the law states that this curriculum needs to be age appropriate, I don’t think demonstrating sexual positions in fourth grade material is age appropriate. So no misquoting and it’s there,” she continued. “It’s part of the curriculum, as much as I think my opponent would now like to distance himself from that.”

Reykdal started his response to Espinoza’s statement by detailing the court case.

“The case is not about suing for defamation,” he said. “It was a case about whether or not a voters’ guide statement has an untrue statement made by one candidate against another. It’s clearly written in law that we bring that to a superior court. We did and we won there. The Superior Court of Thurston County said that statement by my opponent is false. It is untrue.”

“At the Supreme Court level, they did not disagree with the lower court about it being untrue. That statement remains false and untrue by a court of law,” he added. “What the Supreme Court said was, ‘Oh, and you need to prove that if you did sue her for defamation that you would absolutely win in a court.’ And because I’m an elected official, people can basically say whatever they want about you, so the bar is really high. So that’s why the Supreme Court is letting her statement stay in the guide because the bar of defamation is so high. They did not disagree with the lower court that her statement is untrue.”

Voters’ guide statements in Washington state are not required to be fact checked.

“Now about this entire issue: There is nothing in state law that requires sexual positions, or sexuality, or sexual pleasure as a content area,” Reykdal said. “There’s nothing in law. The next thing you would look to is our learning standards. There is nothing in our learning standards. The next thing you would look to is what exactly are the curriculums that are available to districts? There is nothing in those curriculums about this material. Then you would have to look at teacher lesson plans. The ultimate thing is, what do teachers teach kids? What do they give them in terms of materials? And there is absolutely, unequivocally nothing in teacher lesson plans about sexual positions.”

Those, he said, are the facts, and is what the court concluded as well.

“What our opponents did, and it’s probably the dirtiest trick I’ve ever seen in Washington state politics, is they grabbed a book that is written by a third-party author for parents who may want to work with their children on their own, led by parents, to talk their kids through puberty or reproduction.”

That book has cartoon caricatures, he explained, saying that his opponents took those pictures, superimposed them on Facebook with an OSPI letterhead or curriculum review document, and said that’s what the state will teach your kids.

“It is ugly. It is dirty. It has been disproven,” Reykdal said. “It is just shameful that that is the tactic, because there is a legitimate reason why parents want to do this on their own and they want to be in the lead, and we agree with that. So the legislation allows this to be a total opt out by parents. But to suggest for a second that our state is teaching this is just disgusting and it’s absurd. And a court concluded the same thing.”

As far as the sexual education bill itself, Reykdal says 29 other already states require something similar.

“It’s age appropriate, medically accurate,” he said. “We have one in three girls and one in six boys who report in our survey work that they are victims of sexual assault, sexual abuse, or inappropriate touch by the time they graduate from school. That’s why this issue is before us. We want kids to be safe.”

“Nearly 30 other states require something similar,” he added. “This is not revolutionary anywhere, but it’s become political. Districts adopt their own curriculum for the stuff that has been reviewed by the state. We don’t approve it, or force it, or require anything. Locals choose this. Parents are informed along the way, and they get to opt their child out of any or all of it.”

Solving inequity moving forward

COVID has brought to light a lot of the inequities in education across the state, notably through the lack of access to remote learning for some students. Reykdal said if re-elected, his office will keep building on what they’ve been working on for the last three and a half years.

“What’s not been on people’s radar very much is the work we’ve done to completely rewrite our discipline rules, for example. We had disproportionate impacts for so many of our policies for students of color, low income students, and students with disabilities,” he said.

“We’ve deployed 300,000 devices, as another example, to connect families and kids to technology,” he added. “We’ve deployed 60,000 more WiFi and broadband connections and a plan to get to 60,000 more.”

The OSPI is also asking the Legislature to embed universal connectivity as a basic right for students in the K-12 system.

“These are things that this system has known about, and we’ve been grabbing every policy, breaking it down to its fundamental parts and then redesigning it with equity as our focus,” Reykdal said.

“It’s not about what we’ll start,” he added. “It’s about what will we keep building in terms of momentum from the strategic plan that we initiated 3.5 years ago and obviously have had great success, record high graduation rates, even as students are taking more rigorous courses. We’re closing gaps, in other words, students of color graduating now at a faster rate than the overall average growth rate. And so it’s work. It’s hard work, but it’s got to be more than just rhetoric. There’s got to be a plan, and we have a plan, and we’ve been developing that plan.”

The first thing to do, however, is focus on reopening schools.

“The best thing we can do and learn from COVID is that we built a system in our buildings of comprehensive supports, not just great content and subjects, but nutritional services, mental health supports, access to nurses,” Reykdal said. “These things have to be in place. They have been getting more investment and more support. So the best thing we could do to respond to COVID and address equity is get our buildings open. That has to be done in partnership with health regulators, of course, and the public health experts right now.”

Even once students are back, he says we have to recognize that technology has forever changed our lives.

“It was changing us before COVID,” he said. “… We have been requiring technology as a pretty big component of learning for a long time, and no one was paying attention to how inequitable that was until COVID. But I’m suggesting to you that we were, and that’s why we were pushing one-to-one technology initiatives even before COVID.”

What’s difficult, he added, is that there are families that live in communities with no broadband, and no school district can fix that.

“That’s a big infrastructure play that I hope Congress will take up. Certainly, the states can help with that,” he said. “I’ll tell you — I think after $4 trillion of more deficit spending by the federal government, the fact that they build out cruise lines and didn’t build an infrastructure plan to bring broadband to rural communities that most impact our migrant youth, our Hispanic youth, our Native American youth. The fact that that was their plan is an abject failure of the Trump administration and the federal government.”

“This connectivity is the final, final thing that will make this work, and that’s going to require a big build out, a big infrastructure build out of broadband,” Reykdal added.

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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