• Betel Tadesse

Approve Referendum 90: Why Students Deserve Comprehensive Sex Education

Updated: Nov 18, 2020


The Ballot for Referendum 90
Vote "Approved" for Referendum No. 9. Photo by Aggie Campana Tutia.

The need for comprehensive sexual education is undeniable. With one out of three girls and one out of six boys being sexually assaulted or harassed before graduating high school in Washington state, we need an intervention. Students who receive comprehensive sexual health education are more likely to understand and value the autonomy and ownership they have over their and others’ bodies. They better understand that yes, they do have a right in deciding what behaviors they should and should not engage in. This knowledge provides youth with an understanding of consent, that no means no, and boundaries should be set and respected so that sexual assault and harassment are deliberately avoided.


Clear, age-conscious, scientifically-backed comprehensive sex education will prepare Washington state students like me to be better informed about my body and the choices I have.

Not only does comprehensive sex education reduce sexual assault and harassment, but it also decreases unsafe and risky sexual behavior, STIs contractions, and unintended pregnancies. Teaching students at a young age also ensures that children who are sexually assaulted have the tools to communicate and process what has happened to them. Clear, age-conscious, scientifically-backed comprehensive sex education will prepare Washington state students like me to be better informed about my body and the choices I have.


This November General Election, many Washingtonians have the opportunity to approve Referendum 90 (R-90) which would enact Senate Bill 5395 requiring K-12 public schools to provide comprehensive sexual health education. With R-90 driving strong opposition from parents who believe that SB 5395 would strip the autonomy of public schools and parents, allow me to breakdown the actual implications of the Senate Bill.


While many people argue that approving R-90 would take away power from public schools and parents, it actually ensures that parents and public schools maintain freedom. In fact, many schools in Washington already have some kind of sexual education curriculum in place. This bill allows local school districts to create the age-appropriate curriculum they see fit. The State School’s Superintendent has a list of topics that school districts can choose from when creating their comprehensive curriculum. Additionally, parents have the option of opting-out their kids of any and every lesson if they wish to. This bill will only mandate that schools teach comprehensive sexual education, it doesn’t mandate students to attend the classroom instruction.


What is truly saddening is that there’s been copious misinformation when it comes to the actual curriculum and instruction that the bill mandates. Here is what students will actually be taught according to their grade level under this program:


  • Students in Kindergarten through 3rd grade will be taught social and emotional health for at least 1 hour each school year, possible topics might include personal space and when and where not to touch their peers.

  • Students from 4th through Middle School will learn about puberty (this includes menstruation education) and how their bodies are changing for at least 2 hours each school year.

  • Students in 9th grade through 12th grade will be taught how to avoid STDs, pregnancy, and sexual assault.


Within these broad matters, school districts still maintain the freedom to choose which topics to include in the curriculum from a larger list of topics. Some of the more impactful lessons include consent education and ensuring that students have someone they trust to reach out to. This curriculum will help provide our youth with the toolkits they need to be healthy individuals.


In the age of social media and misinformation, it is important for youth to have access to the actual information that guides them towards good decision-making and a positive lifestyle.

The approval of this bill also “[centers] the voices and experiences of LGBTQ youth” (Approve R-90 Campaign). It is incredibly crucial that we recognize and positively educate LGBTQ youth so they are able to maintain their health and safety while they grow into themselves. In the age of social media and misinformation, it is important for youth to have access to the actual information that guides them towards good decision-making and a positive lifestyle. As stated by the Approve Referendum 90 Campaign, “No young person [should be] left in the dark when they need honest and accurate information about their changing bodies, sex, and healthy relationships.” We totally agree.


Personally, the approval of R-90 is important to me because I’m exhausted by the toxic rape culture prevalent in our general society and manifested in my West Seattle community. Sexual assault is all too common amongst young communities here in Seattle, and it has enraged me through the experiences of my friends and classmates. In my Junior year, two students were raped and the number of apologists and rape sympathizers was overwhelming insanity. As the President of the Feminist Club at my high school, I endured backlash and ignorance, along with other club members, from my classmates. Their lack of understanding and willingness to learn about consent and the existence of rape culture might stem from the fact that we currently only receive a week of sexual health education in all the four years at our high school.


Through social and emotional education, we are ensuring that students will become more empathetic and supportive of others' experiences.

Consent education is crucial in changing the current culture and nurturing our youth to be more aware and considerate. Through social and emotional education, we are ensuring that students will become more empathetic and supportive of others' experiences. We need to normalize the mental, social, and physical aspects of healthy sexual behaviors.


As a Washington student, I ardently believe each student who is fortunate enough to receive comprehensive sexual education will benefit immensely from it for years to come. This referendum is paramount to the progression of Washington and its occupants, to ending sexual assault and harassment, and to changing the culture. I hope you vote to approve R-90.

Betel Tadesse

I go to WSHS and I strongly believe that the youth have the power to change the future through climate action and by fighting for gender and racial equity. I love Elle Woods, I drink copious amounts of tea, and want to go into Law or Policy when I'm older!


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