Eatonville School District invited community members to Eatonville Elementary School’s library on Tues. Feb. 18 to discuss Comprehensive Sex Education Senate Bill 5395.

Senior school board director and legislative representative, Ronda Litzenberger, presented the potential district impact of said bill and explained how concerned parents, teachers and community members could become involved.

SB 5395 was introduced during last year’s legislative session. The bill proceeded through the senate floor and committee but died in the house before making it to vote. The bill’s death came with a caveat: a summer workgroup comprising of PTA members, teachers, department of health workers and school board directors from across the state was formed.

Litzenberger participated within the workgroup as one of three board directors last summer.

The 2020 legislative session introduced House Bill 2184, an amended version of 2019’s SB 5395. The new house bill accounted for recommendations made by the workgroup concerning local control, cost and other issues.

According to Litzenberger, however, SB 5395 recently resurfaced without a trace of HB 2184 or the summer workgroup’s implementations.

SB 5395 mandates that comprehensive sexual education be adopted state wide.

Sex education is not currently a requirement in Washington state and some districts have no sex education curriculum at all. HIV awareness is however a requirement.

Comprehensive sexual education would be mandated for every grade K-12 following curricula outlined by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) or using OSPI’s review tools. Mandated standards come from “The Washington state health and physical education K-12 learning standards” which can be found online at www.k12.wa.us

During Tuesday night’s presentation Litzenberger stressed that the meeting was to provide logistical issues for the district brought about by SB 5395 and methods for vocalizing personal concern over the bill.

“I’m here to share with you tonight where your district and school board are really focusing on this legislation and how it affects us according to the law,” Litzenberger said. “I’m not here to influence your opinion. I want you to have your right to vocalize and to share your opinion with your legislatures.”

Three topics of concern were presented by Litzenberger.

Government overstep into local curriculum adoption processes was presented as the first major problem. The legislation in SB 5395 removes local control from individual school boards says Litzenberger.

The Eatonville School District curriculum adoption process involves community, board and teacher input. New ideas, such as a new book piloted by a teacher, requires a five-page analysis of bias, standards, cost and impact; a committee of staff, designees and parents decide on approval for one year and then re-evaluation, public review and another approval process takes place.

“This is where democracy really happens,” said superintendent Krestin Bahr. “Once curriculum is taken over by the state, there’s not a whole lot that we can do, so we are going to fight for local control.”

Teacher availability and tremendous costs associated with SB 5395 were the other concerns addressed Tuesday night.

Elementary teachers have little time to cram additional curriculum says Litzenberger. Essential learning already crams their day. Several elementary teachers in the crowd shouted in agreement.

The Washington Board of Education has mandated high school students obtain 24 credits for graduation and that’s what Eatonville High School provides. According to Litzenberger, there is no wiggle room for additional classes or curriculum. Larger schools may be able to compensate more easily says Litzenberger.

“We don’t have money to hire more teachers or increase the school day,” Litzenberger said. “This is an unfunded mandate. This would be a mandate from the state to do something that they are providing absolutely no money for.”

Estimations made by Eatonville School District are $230,000.00 that would out of necessity come from levy moneys to fund mandates from the bill. Estimated costs derive from purchases of the new K-12 curriculum, professional development, two addition secondary teachers, parent meetings and supplies.

Litzenberger believes that if the district was able to hire teachers, counselors or more nurses, the money would be much better spent than the new mandates being proposed.

The bill’s unfunded mandate is part of a long list of unfunded mandates recently pushed upon our school districts.

“We have had multiple unfunded mandates,” Bahr said. “… last year’s [mandates] were close to $500,000.00. Which is all levy dollars.”

Superintendent Bahr also commented that the timeline for adoption is too soon. Three to four months isn’t enough time to review the curriculum, adopt it, train teachers to properly teach it and get the money for it says Bahr. The bill would require adoption of standards by the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year.

Litzenberger used slideshows to demonstrate how concerned individuals could register to testify on Thurs. Feb. 20. Litzenberger encouraged people to write their testimony out for one minute or less and advocated that people contact their representatives.

Litzenberger announced that she would be testifying Thursday morning.

Since Tuesday’s meeting, parts of SB 5395 have been amended to incorporate some of the summer workgroup’s ideas and others.

Changes include a two-year phase in period, allowance for districts to choose their own curriculum, differentiation in comprehensive sex education (CSE) per age group and it is explicitly specified that CSE is not required to be integrated into unrelated subject matter.

Other changes were implemented and a full list can be viewed at https://apps.leg.wa.gov/billinfo by searching the bill number and text.

No appropriations have been earmarked at this time.

Litzenberger, Lexy Miller, senior Eatonville High School student and Emily Frey, senior Eatonville High School student and student representative on the Eatonville School District Board all testified Thurs. Feb. 20 at the house committee in Olympia.

During her testimony Litzenberger commended the local control of curriculum being retained. She also applauded the new phase-in approach.

Litzenberger plead for additional time for phase-in stating that sensitive subject matter can take three to four times more time to implement. Litzenberger explicitly invited sponsors to support an amendment for additional implementation time and funding for the new mandates.

Miller echoed Litzenberger’s plea for additional money and expressed her belief about the importance of sex education. Frey mentioned the importance of an encompassing sex education program that helps prevent people from being harmed physically and emotionally.

The amended version of SB5395 will be brought to a house vote on Thurs. Feb. 27. Litzenberger encourages everyone to remain or become engaged by e-mailing or calling their representative. You can also comment on the bill or sign up to testify at https://apps.leg.wa.gov/billinfo