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News / Northwest

Washington Senate wants LGBTQ+ history and perspectives taught in public schools

By Jerry Cornfield, Washington State Standard
Published: January 19, 2024, 9:33pm

Public schools must integrate instruction about the contributions and perspectives of LGBTQ+ people into their curricula under legislation the Washington state Senate approved on Wednesday.

Senate Bill 5462 passed on a mostly party-line vote following a brief floor debate in which Democrats said LGBTQ+ students need to know of trailblazing LGBTQ+ individuals. Republicans countered that the goal can be achieved without a state mandate.

“We need to tell the stories of the people that have led the way in the progress we have made,” said Sen. Marko Liias, D-Edmonds, the bill’s prime sponsor and one of the Legislature’s LGBTQ+ members.

“We are among the pioneers in this room and our state is a pioneer and we need to tell those stories,” he said. “That’s what this bill would do in our public schools.”

Sen. Brad Hawkins, R-East Wenatchee, who is a former school board member, rose in opposition.

“Here we go again. The Washington State Senate is once again becoming the Washington State Senate School Board,” he said.

It’s fine if a school district wants to adopt the model curricula envisioned in the legislation, he said, but having the Legislature “force feed” the policy to all 295 districts statewide is wrong.

The bill passed 29-19 with only Republicans voting against it. Senate Minority Leader John Braun, R-Centralia, voted for the bill. He said afterwards it was an error but he realized it too late to change his vote on the floor.

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Majority Democrats passed the same bill by the same margin last year.

The legislation sets a timeline for ensuring contributions of LGBTQ+ people are taught in public, tribal-state compact and charter schools statewide by the 2025-26 school year.

By Dec. 1, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, in concert with the Washington state LGBTQ Commission, must review and update existing state learning standards at all grade levels to incorporate contributions and perspectives of LGBTQ+ people.

Then, by June 1, 2025, the Washington State School Directors’ Association, with the help of OSPI, must come up with a model policy and procedure for designing courses and selecting materials for use in classrooms.

By Oct. 1, 2025, schools must act to incorporate the elements of the model policy.

In addition, the bill directs educational service districts to have an “inclusive curricula coordinator” to assist school districts in complying with the new requirements. A provision in the legislation says coordinators must make sure “diversity, equity, and inclusion are interwoven throughout curricula and not treated as a stand-alone topic.”

Prior to the vote, Liias and Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, a leading legislative voice in marriage equality battles, said there’s evidence LGBTQ+ students’ academic achievement and mental health improve when LGBTQ+ people like themselves are part of a course curriculum

“The primary beneficiaries of this bill are the kids,”  Pedersen said.

Hawkins and Sen. Jim McCune, R-Graham, said mandating the curricula infringes on school boards’ ability to decide locally how instruction is delivered. It will sow division and could spur parents to pull their children out of public schools.

“This bill will actually force parents to leave,” McCune said.

Senate Bill 5462 now goes to the House. It lapsed in that chamber’s education committee last session.

The Washington State Standard is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news outlet that provides original reporting, analysis and commentary on Washington state government and politics. We seek to keep you informed about Washington’s most pressing issues, the decisions elected leaders are making, how they are spending tax dollars and who is influencing public policy.