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Controversial bill mandating sex education in Washington schools goes to voters in November

Referendum 90 would mandate "age-appropriate" sexual health education to be taught to students in every grade in Washington's public schools.

SEATTLE — Ballots will soon arrive in mailboxes around Washington state and one controversial issue voters will decide on is Referendum 90, which involves the future of sex education in schools. 

In June, it was a coalition of parents who took back control over the future of sex education in schools, gathering enough signatures to put the decision in the voter’s hands. 

“It was a state record during a global pandemic,” Whitney Holz with Informed Parents of Washington explained.

Initially, the legislature passed guidelines that Gov. Jay Inslee signed in March, mandating every public school in the state to provide "age-appropriate" comprehensive sexual health education for every grade by the 2022-23 school year.

Supporters say in the younger grades it can help kids understand how to build healthy relationships and friendships.  

“It has really important factors for abuse prevention and intervention,” Courtney Normand with Planned Parenthood said. “Knowing that private parts are private, who are your trusted adults that you can go to,” she continued.

Many school districts in the state already teach this type of curriculum and supporters say parents can see it and be involved. 

“Sex education is age-appropriate and districts and parents will have local control to choose a curriculum that fits in their community,” Normand said.

But, some who are opposed to R-90 say the mandate goes too far. 

“We had testimony from two girls at a senate hearing who lived through a rollout at their school because it changed the culture at their school which is the goal of some who say this is sex-ed for social change,” said Holz.

Holz says she’s not against sex education but believes the type laid out in these guidelines goes too far.  

“We have examples directly from the curriculum on our Facebook page that people can go and look at for themselves see what they decided is age-appropriate for your child,” said Holz.

Sorting out the issue could be confusing for families with both sides using words like "safe" and "healthy" in their campaigns.

Supporters and those against R-90 are encouraging families to take time studying the issue and learning more about the curriculum so they can decide what's best for their children.