State Profiles

Washington’s Sex Education Snapshot

The State of Sex education

Advocates have successfully advanced sex education across Washington over the past decade beginning in 2007 with the passage of the Healthy Youth Act. The Healthy Youth Act requires sex education curriculum to be medically and scientifically accurate. The implementation of the 2016 Health and Physical Education K-12 Learning Standards energized advocates across Washington to push for the adoption of comprehensive sex education curriculum in districts such as Spokane Public Schools in 2018. Advocates also found a champion in Senator Claire Wilson who introduced legislation to mandate comprehensive sex education in Washington schools over two legislative sessions. Senator Wilson successfully championed Senate Bill 5395 in 2020 with the support of advocates statewide; now all public schools will be required to provide comprehensive sex education beginning in the 2022-2023 school year. Those who oppose comprehensive sex education challenged this mandate through Referendum 90 on Washington’s 2020 ballot. Fortunately, a majority of voters elected to allow the comprehensive sex education mandate to go into effect and demonstrating the public’s overwhelming commitment to advancing sex education for young people.

While Washington’s comprehensive sex education mandate was successful, there is still progress to be made to make instruction more inclusive with students with intellectual disabilities. Local advocates are in the beginning stages of promoting inclusive education for students with intellectual disabilities. 

Efforts to expand the comprehensive sex education mandate in 2022 continue with the introduction of House Bill 2016. Introduced by Representative Bradley Klippert, this bill would have required comprehensive sex education to include instruction on how to prevent and avoid being recruited into sex trafficking. Legislation like this is essential for young people to maintain autonomy over their own bodies, and make decisions that make sense in the context of their lives. In addition to efforts to advance comprehensive sex education, opponents in the state have also introduced regressive legislation. Senate Bill 5805, introduced by Senator James McCune, would have required parental approval before their child participates in comprehensive sexual health education, changing from an opt-out to opt-in system. House Bill 2016 and Senate Bill 5805 both died in committee.

Additional challenges advocates in Washington have faced include difficulties caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Schools experienced a reduced capacity while online learning was in effect, causing sex education curriculum to be shortened. While most schools in Washington have resumed in-person learning, it is essential to continue monitoring the ongoing impact of the pandemic to ensure young people receive sufficient sex education, regardless of the format it is being taught. 

Culturally responsive instruction is necessary to address the unique needs of youth of color, and Native American youth in particular. A 2018 report found that of 148 Native women living in Seattle, Washington, 94 percent reported being sexually assaulted during their lifetime. Such results demonstrate the urgent need to address sexual violence and its impact on marginalized communities within sex education courses.

Right now, advocates can take action to ensure young people in their community have access to quality sex education by ensuring the current mandate is being followed, advocating for expansion of education for people with disabilities, and staying vigilant against the regressive minority looking to roll back progressive policies that support respect and inclusion in educational spaces. They can then vocalize the important need for advancing sex education requirements in their community. Advocates are encouraged to take action on pending legislation that seeks to advance or restrict the principles of comprehensive sex education. For a current overview of pending legislation, see table below. Additionally, reach out to EducateUs to get connected to local advocacy groups. Further, advocates can contact their representatives to discuss the critical need for accountability measures to ensure each district is supported in implementing comprehensive sex education. Advocates are encouraged to use the SIECUS Community Action Toolkit to guide local efforts

State Sex Education Policies and Requirements at a Glance

  • Washington schools are required to teach sex education. 
    • Curriculum is required to be comprehensive.
    • Curriculum must stress abstinence. However, abstinence may not be taught to the exclusion of other materials and instruction on contraceptives and disease prevention.
  • Curriculum must be inclusive of all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. 
  • Curriculum is required to include instruction on affirmative consent.
  • Parents or guardians may remove their children from HIV/AIDS prevention education if they have attended an information session about the HIV/AIDS curriculum and its presentation. Parents may also remove their children from the class with written notification. This is referred to as an “opt-out” policy.
  • Curriculum must be medically accurate.

State House Highlights

This section highlights sex education bills that were introduced during the 2021 state legislative session as well as bills that have been introduced thus far in 2022. These proposed bills ​provide a brief overview of both recent and current legislative action taken to advance or restrict sex education. For a more comprehensive look at relevant legislation concerning sex education and related topics such as reproductive health care, LGBTQ rights, racial equity and justice, parental rights, bullying and harassment, mental health, assault and violence prevention, and HIV/STIs as it impacts youth, continue reading on to the “State Legislative Activity” section of Washington’s profile.

2022 Legislative Session

House Bill 2016 (Failed): Sought to requires comprehensive sexual health education to include instruction on how to prevent and avoid being recruited into sex trafficking.

2021 Legislative Session

House Bill 1422 (failed): Aims to extend comprehensive sexual health education compliance dates by one year.

 

More on sex ed in Washington…


State Law

The Revised Code of Washington, §§ 28A.230.070 requires schools to provide instruction on human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), “stress[ing] that abstinence from sexual activity is the only certain means for the prevention of the spread or contraction of the AIDS virus through sexual contact.”  HIV/AIDS-prevention instruction must be given at least once each school year beginning in fifth grade and must “teach that condoms and other artificial means of birth control are not a certain means of preventing the spread of [AIDS], and reliance on condoms puts a person at risk for exposure to the disease.” Information must be medically accurate. In order to verify medical accuracy, the Washington Department of Health Office on HIV/AIDS must review and approve all HIV/AIDS curricula and supporting materials. Health education that includes instruction on “methods to prevent exposure to and transmission of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)” is also required by Revised Code of Washington §§ 28A.230.020.

The Revised Code of Washington, § 28A.300.475, known as the Healthy Youth Act, was amended in 2020 to require every Washington public school to provide comprehensive sex education. In addition to the previous mandate that required curriculum to be medically and scientifically accurate and age-appropriate, curriculum must now be inclusive of all students, regardless of their protected class under chapter 49.60 of the Revised Code of Washington. Curriculum is also required to include instruction on affirmative consent and bystander training. Comprehensive sex education must be provided once to students in kindergarten through grade three, once to students in grades 4-5, twice to students in grades 6-8, and twice to students in 9-12. Parents or guardians may remove their children from HIV/AIDS-prevention education if they have attended an information session about the HIV/AIDS curriculum and its presentation. If a school district chooses to provide sex education, parents may also remove their children from the class with written notification. This is referred to as an “opt-out” policy.

State Standards

The Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Department of Health developed guidelines titled Guidelines for Sexual Health and Disease Prevention. Any sex education program implemented in schools must be consistent with these guidelines. Washington also provides guidance for best practice for sexual health education in the Health and Physical Education K-12 Learning Standards, released in 2016,  and KNOW HIV/STD Prevention Curriculum, a voluntary curriculum for use in grades 5–12, as well as a thorough list of other curricula that have been reviewed and approved by the Department of Health. Furthermore, Washington provides health education standards as guidance for curriculum development. Understanding “how to maintain sexual health throughout life” and “how communicable diseases are transmitted,” as well as discussion on harassment and bullying due to sexual orientation, are included.

State Legislative Activity

Legislative activity in state capitals related to sex education does not take place in isolation from the broader influences and conversations in society and the embroiled political and policy climate. Attacks on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning (LGBTQ) individuals, attempts to restrict or prohibit instruction on “divisive concepts” such as Critical Race Theory, and efforts to limit access to abortion care and other reproductive healthcare services all restrict students from receiving comprehensive sex education and accessing sexual and reproductive healthcare services. In this section, we will highlight current legislative activity related to these topics. Washington’s 2022 session convened on January 10, 2022. 

 

TitleDescriptionStatusLegislative Topic
House Bill 1886Prohibits instruction on critical race theory in public schools.Died in the House Committee on Education (2022)Racial Equity & Justicehttps://legiscan.com/WA/text/HB1886/id/2469379/Washington-2021-HB1886-Introduced.pdf
House Bill 1556Prohibits students from playing on the interscholastic sports team that aligns with their gender identity and instead on the basis of biological sex.Died in the House Committee on Education (2022)Sexual Orientation and Gender Identityhttps://lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov/biennium/2021-22/Htm/Bills/House%20Bills/1556.htm
House Bill 2087Establishes a parental bill of rights allowing access to instructional material and information on teachers and guest speakers, and entities who have contracts with the school. It would increase their ability to participate in school board meetings and access to recordings of meetings.Died in the House Committee on Education (2022)Parental Rights and Curriculum Transparencyhttps://lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov/biennium/2021-22/Htm/Bills/House%20Bills/2087.htm
House Bill 2041Raises age of minors consenting to certain medical services such as treatment for sexually transmitted infections and mental health treatment to 16 from 14.Died in the House Committee on Health Care and Wellness (2022)HIV & STIshttps://lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov/biennium/2021-22/Htm/Bills/House%20Bills/2041.htm
House Bill 2016Requires comprehensive sexual health education to include instruction on how to prevent and avoid being recruited into sex trafficking.Died in the House Committee on Education (2022)Sex Educationhttps://lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov/biennium/2021-22/Htm/Bills/House%20Bills/2016.htm
Senate Bill 5877Expands definition of race and sexual orientation for anti-discrimination policy in higher educationDied in the Senate Committee on Ways & Means (2022)Sexual Orientation and Gender Identityhttps://lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov/biennium/2021-22/Htm/Bills/Senate%20Bills/5877.htm
Senate Bill 5858Facilitates increased parental involvement in school and school board meetingDied in the Senate Committee on Early Learning and K-12 Education (2022)Parental Rights and Curriculum Transparencyhttps://lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov/biennium/2021-22/Htm/Bills/Senate%20Bills/5858.htm
House Bill 1900Requires school districts to develop and periodically update model student handbook language that includes information related to reporting procedures for bullying and harassment which will be published and made available to parents, students, and educators.Died in the House Committee on Education (2022)Bullying and Harassmenthttps://lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov/biennium/2021-22/Htm/Bills/House%20Bills/1900.htm
Senate Bill 5805Requires parental approval before child participates in comprehensive sexual health education, changing from an opt-out to opt-in system.Died in the Senate Committee on Early Learning and K-12 Education (2022)Sex Educationhttps://lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov/biennium/2021-22/Htm/Bills/Senate%20Bills/5805.htm
House Bill 1829Creates a certification program for educators in instruction on African American studies for grades 7-12.Died in the House Committee on Education (2022)Racial Equity & Justicehttps://lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov/biennium/2021-22/Htm/Bills/House%20Bills/1829.htm
House Bill 1834Allows for schools to excuse absences for mental health reasons.Enacted (2022)Mental Healthhttps://lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov/biennium/2021-22/Htm/Bills/House%20Bills/1834.htm
House Bill 1807Discourages instruction on critical race theory.Died in the House Committee on Education (2022)Racial Equity & Justicehttps://lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov/biennium/2021-22/Htm/Bills/House%20Bills/1807.htm
Senate Bill 5053Requires parental notification if a minor obtains an abortion. Died in the Senate Committee on Law and Justice (2022) Reproductive Health Carehttp://lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov/biennium/2021-22/Htm/Bills/Senate%20Bills/5053.htm
House Bill 1422Extends comprehensive sexual health education compliance dates by one year.Died in the House Committee on Education (2022) Sex Educationhttp://lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov/biennium/2021-22/Htm/Bills/House%20Bills/1422.htm
House Bill 1008 Prohibits abortion if the fetus has, or is suspected to have, Down syndrome. Referred to the House Committee on Health Care & Wellness (2021) Reproductive Health Care http://lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov/biennium/2021-22/Htm/Bills/House%20Bills/1008.htm
House Bill 1149Requires the superintendent of public instruction to identify the public health knowledge and skills that students need to know and apply in support of health enhancing behaviors, positive health outcomes, and healthy communities. The public health knowledge identified must then be incorporated into the health and physical education state learning standards.Referred to the House Committee on Education (2021) Sex Education http://lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov/biennium/2021-22/Pdf/Bills/House%20Bills/1149.pdf#page=1
House Bill 1422Extends comprehensive sexual health education compliance dates by one year.Referred to the House Committee on Education (2021) Sex Education http://lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov/biennium/2021-22/Htm/Bills/House%20Bills/1422.htm
Senate Bill 5044Requires the Washington state school directors' association in consultation with the educational opportunity gap oversight and accountability committee to develop and recommend a list of available equity, diversity, inclusion , antiracism, and cultural competency training for school directors and post the recommended list of training programs online for parents and community members. Requires one professional learning day to be prioritized by school districts to focus first on providing equity, diversity, inclusion, antiracism, and cultural competency training. Enacted (2021)Sex Education http://lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov/biennium/2021-22/Htm/Bills/Senate%20Bills/5044-S.E.htm
Senate Bill 5053Requires parental notification if a minor obtains an abortion. Referred to the Senate Committee on Law and Justice (2021) Reproductive Health Care http://lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov/biennium/2021-22/Htm/Bills/Senate%20Bills/5053.htm
Senate Bill 5416Prohibits abortion if the fetus has been diagnosed with or may be diagnosed with Down syndrome. Referred to the Senate Committee on Law and Justice (2021) Reproductive Health Care http://lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov/biennium/2021-22/Htm/Bills/Senate%20Bills/5416.htm

Youth Sexual Health Data

Young people are more than their health behaviors and outcomes. While data can be a powerful tool to demonstrate the sex education and sexual health care needs of young people, it is important to be mindful that these behaviors and outcomes are impacted by systemic inequities present in our society that affect an individual’s sexual health and well-being. To learn more about Washington’s  2018 Healthy Youth Survey results,  click here.

Washington School Health Profiles Data 

In 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the School Health Profiles, which measure school health policies and practices and highlight which health topics were taught in schools across the country. Since the data were collected from self-administered questionnaires completed by schools’ principals and lead health education teachers, the CDC notes that one limitation of the School Health Profiles is bias toward the reporting of more positive policies and practices. In the School Health Profiles, the CDC identifies 20 sexual health education topics as critical for ensuring a young person’s sexual health. Below are key instruction highlights for secondary schools in Washington as reported for the 2017–2018 school year.

Reported teaching all 20 critical sexual health education topics

  • 32.6% of Washington secondary schools taught students all 20 critical sexual health education topics in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 56.1% of Washington secondary schools taught students all 20 critical sexual health education topics in a required course in any of grades 9, 10, 11, or 12.

Reported teaching about the benefits of being sexually abstinent

  • 83.9% of Washington secondary schools taught students about the benefits of being sexually abstinent in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 96.8% of Washington secondary schools taught students about the benefits of being sexually abstinent in a required course in any of grades 9, 10, 11, or 12.

Reported teaching how to access valid and reliable information, products, and services related to HIV, other STDs, and pregnancy

  • 76.4% of Washington secondary schools taught students how to access valid and reliable information, products, and services related to HIV, other STDs, and pregnancy in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 92.4% of Washington secondary schools taught students how to access valid and reliable information, products, and services related to HIV, other STDs, and pregnancy in a required course in any of grades 9, 10, 11, or 12.

Reported teaching how to create and sustain healthy and respectful relationships

  • 78.3% of Washington secondary schools taught students how to create and sustain healthy and respectful relationships in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 93.9% of Washington secondary schools taught students how to create and sustain healthy and respectful relationships in a required course in any of grades 9, 10, 11, or 12.

Reported teaching about preventive care that is necessary to maintain reproductive and sexual health

  • 67.2% of Washington secondary schools taught students about preventive care that is necessary to maintain reproductive and sexual health in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 90.0% of Washington secondary schools taught students about preventive care that is necessary to maintain reproductive and sexual health in a required course in any of grades 9, 10, 11, or 12.

Reported teaching how to correctly use a condom

  • 50.3% of Washington secondary schools taught students how to correctly use a condom in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 85.4% of Washington secondary schools taught students how to correctly use a condom in a required course in any of grades 9, 10, 11, or 12.

Reported teaching about methods of contraception other than condoms

  • 63.6% of Washington secondary schools taught students about methods of contraception other than condoms in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 90.0% of Washington secondary schools taught students about methods of contraception other than condoms in a required course in any of grades 9, 10, 11, or 12.

Reported teaching about sexual orientation

  • 49.8% of Washington secondary schools taught students about sexual orientation in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 64.0% of Washington secondary schools taught students about sexual orientation in a required course in any of grades 9, 10, 11, or 12.

Reported teaching about gender roles, gender identity, or gender expression

  • 49.8% of Washington secondary schools taught students about gender roles, gender identity, or gender expression in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 64.9% of Washington secondary schools taught students about gender roles, gender identity, or gender expression in a required course in any of grades 9, 10, 11, or 12.

Reported providing curricula or supplementary materials relevant to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ) youth

  • 64.1 % of Washington secondary schools provided students with curricula or supplementary materials that included HIV, STD, or pregnancy prevention information relevant to LGBTQ youth.

(Visit the CDC’s School Health Profiles report for additional information on school health policies and practices.)

***The quality of sex education taught often reflects funding available for sex education programs. To learn more about federal funding streams, click here.

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