Tuesday, July 14, 2020
July 14, 2020

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Washington schools superintendent sues over voter pamphlet language

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Washington schools superintendent Chris Reykdal, who is running for reelection this fall, is suing primary challenger Maia Espinoza for what his attorney called “a defamatory statement” in the blurb she has submitted describing her candidacy for the state voters pamphlet.

Reykdal is asking that Espinoza, a Lakewood business owner and newcomer to state elective office, remove a line from her statement that says: “The incumbent ignored parents and educators by championing a policy that teaches sexual positions to 4th graders!” The pamphlet is under review by the secretary of state’s office and is expected to go out to voters in July. The primary election is Aug. 4.

Espinoza says she believes her sentence is accurate because Reykdal supported a new comprehensive sex education law, and one of the curricula she says could be used under the law showed “different sexual positions, including masturbation.”

Specifically, in the first lesson for fourth graders, the book “It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health” by Robie Harris, is listed in a handout that is part of the curriculum called Rights, Respect, Responsibility, which is distributed by the organization Advocates for Youth, said Espinoza’s campaign manager, Monica Marchetti. The book “includes images of sexual positions, masturbation, etc.,” she said.

That curriculum is one of just a handful that meet the state’s new requirement for comprehensive sexual education, Espinoza said.

Reykdal responded in an email: “None of the curriculum or lesson plans in the curriculum shows anything like this. Those images are in a 3rd party book referenced in the curriculum for parents and caregivers. These materials are not provided to children by educators and none of those images are in the curriculum or lesson plans.”

Taki Flevaris, an attorney representing Reykdal, said via email that Espinoza had drafted “a false, misleading, and defamatory statement” and that “state law specifically prohibits such statements from being included in the voters’ pamphlet.”

“If Ms. Espinoza actually provides any evidence that she believes supports her allegation against Superintendent Reykdal, we would be happy to review it,” Flevaris said.

In a petition to the Thurston County Superior Court, Reykdal’s legal firm writes that the sentence “should be deleted, because it is patently false and defamatory on its face.” In the petition, he asks that the court direct the secretary of state’s office to delete the sentence from Espinoza’s candidate statement. A hearing is scheduled for Friday.

Because Reykdal supported the bill, and because the curriculum materials include this information, “I don’t think there’s anything factually wrong or inaccurate” in the description, Espinoza said. “Hopefully the courts see it the same way.”

Earlier this year, Washington lawmakers passed a comprehensive sex education law, which was met with resistance from Republicans in both the House and Senate, and some families and school board members who objected to statewide standards for what they consider a local decision.

The law requires school districts to begin providing age-appropriate sex education at least twice between sixth and eighth grade, and twice during high school. That instruction is to be expanded to elementary school grades by 2022-23.

The superintendent’s office has described the bill as teaching lessons to young children about how to express their emotions, accurate names for their body parts, and how to find a trusted adult.

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