BATTLE GROUND — Battle Ground Public Schools didn’t just reject its sexual health education curriculum Monday night. It threw out requirements that it teach sexual health education altogether.
The board voted 3-2 to overhaul its internal sexual health education policy, eliminating requirements that the district teach sex ed unless the state requires it. As it stands, Washington law only requires that school districts teach about HIV and AIDS prevention. If districts do teach sexual health education, it must be comprehensive and compliant with state standards.
Board members Troy McCoy and Mark Watrin voted against changing the policy.
The vote drew gasps and applause from a packed audience, many of whom wore teal shirts declaring their opposition to comprehensive sexual health education.
The decision ends more than a year of deliberation and discussion on the subject of sexual health curriculum, marked by heated testimony by parents who claim comprehensive sexual health education will promote promiscuity among teenage students.
The most vocal critics especially lambasted a proposed unit about sexual orientation and gender identity, with 18 percent of parents polled in a district survey accusing the district of trying to “promote an LGBTQ agenda.”
Shauna Walters, who is running for Battle Ground City Council, called the curriculum an attempt by external think tanks to import “foreign interests of the sex industry” into Battle Ground.
“They do not care about respecting our local communities,” Walters said. “Rather, they only wish to disrupt our values and corrupt our children.”
What’s next in Olympia
Monday’s meeting spotlighted what could be a hot issue in Olympia this upcoming legislative session. A bill that would have mandated comprehensive sexual health education in Washington died during the last legislative session.
Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, however, told The Columbian she hopes to revive that effort next year.
“The data in stories I heard from students about not knowing what they would know if they had this education would have saved years of suffering and mental health challenges,” Stonier said in a text Monday night.
Contrast that with Rep. Vicki Kraft, R-Vancouver, who made an appearance at Monday’s meeting to urge the board to vote “no” against the curriculum. Kraft, who spoke against comprehensive sex ed last session, called the curriculum part of a larger agenda to “groom and sexualize children.”
Only 29 states, plus the District of Columbia, require that schools teach sexual health education, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization focused on sexual and reproductive health rights.
Stonier pointed to data that suggest a significant number of Washington students have been sexually assaulted before they graduate.
According to Washington’s Healthy Youth Survey, 31.4 percent of high school seniors reported they’d seen someone pressure someone else into unwanted physical contact, including sex. About 25.2 percent of students reported they’d been forced into unwanted physical contact.
“The data … is alarming enough to trigger a public health response,” Stonier said.
What research shows
Those who supported the curriculum said it would reduce risky sexual behavior, improve mental health outcomes and protect students in the district. Dr. Beth Lee, a retired physician who spoke at the board meeting, said science is “messy” and “gooey,” but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be taught.
“Stick with the science and give parents an opportunity and kids an opportunity,” Lee said.
Lee also pointed out research that suggests students who have access to comprehensive sexual health education are more likely to make healthy choices about their sex lives.
A 2016 report in the Journal of Adolescent Health suggests that comprehensive sex education can reduce the rates of sexually risky behaviors, improve reproductive health outcomes, increase condom and contraceptive use, and decrease pregnancy rates.
Researchers from Columbia University also found that students who received sex education that included lessons on consent were less likely to be sexually assaulted in college.
“All the studies show that teaching sex ed lowers the risk of STDs and pregnancies and, in a way, reduces suicides,” she said.