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Washington state OKs 1st voter-approved sex ed mandate in US

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SEATTLE — Washington state voters approved a sex education referendum, allowing Democrats' wide-ranging mandate for public schools to stand and take effect later this school year.

Referendum 90 was Washington's only statewide ballot measure in the November election and the nation's first sex ed fight to be decided at the ballot.

The passing vote upholds a state senate bill approved in March by Democrats without any Republican support, which quickly triggered immense backlash. A historic petition followed, forcing the issue onto the ballot and sparking a bitterly partisan fight that was a test of the reach and influence of the state's GOP forces as the minority party in this deeply liberal state.

Sex Ed Referendum

Courtney Normand, director of the Planned Parenthood-affiliated political group Safe & Healthy Youth Washington, which supports the state's sex education requirement for public schools, poses for a photo Sept. 24, 2020, in Arlington, Wash.

Safe & Healthy Youth Washington, the campaign in support of sex ed that is largely backed by Planned Parenthood affiliates, significantly outraised Parents for Safe Schools — the group against the sex ed bill that was primarily funded by state Republican lawmakers — in contributions.

Supporters of sex ed had decried the distortions and misinformation about the sensitive curriculum that spread online, particularly around a cartoon that is included on a list of approved supplemental resources that are optional for parents, which is not a part of the student material.

"I think it's sending a message that voters want factual, honest information," said Courtney Normand, director of a Planned Parenthood-affiliated political group in the state who is leading the campaign in support of the sex ed bill. "If you're not going to have an honest fight about that or not an honest discussion about it, then voters can see through that."

Those in support of sex ed say a statewide standard is needed to address a public health crisis. They argue that children even at very young ages should be able to talk about sensitive topics with trusted adults at schools in order to potentially stop sexual abuse among young boys and girls who may not even understand what an inappropriate touch is.

Now, Washington state's 295 public school districts will be required to choose or create curriculum that aligns with the new wide-ranging sex ed standards and must teach age-appropriate concepts by grade level. The bill goes into effect 30 days after Referendum 90's passage.

Scenes from Election Night 2020

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