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WA Legislature passes controversial curriculum choices bill

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(The Center Square) – A bill that gives Washington state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction ultimate authority when it comes to school district materials on sex education and race- and gender-based teaching is on its way to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk.

Engrossed Substitute House Bill 2331 passed the Senate Thursday on a 29-20 vote after previously clearing the House of Representatives on a 58-39 vote on Feb. 10.

Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, voted for the bill but told The Center Square he was disappointed with the final version lawmakers voted on.

“I understand what they [sponsors] are trying to accomplish,” he said. “I just feel that it was frustrating the Senate amendment made the bill even worse.”

Mullet was referring to the amendment offered by Sen. T’wina Nobles, D-Lakewood, which was adopted into the legislation that passed the Senate on Thursday.

That amendment removes the ability of a school district to appeal a decision by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction about instructional materials to its own board of directors. It would also render final decisions immune to appeals for a minimum of three years.

The bill contradicts long standing state policy that community-based school boards and parents have the right to run their own public schools.

Superintendent Chris Reykdal has previously said local control would be paramount and curriculum choices would remain at the district level.

Asked about the amendment that removes the appeal option for parents when it comes to disputed curriculum, Senate Education Committee Chair Sen. Lisa Wellman, D-Issaquah, told The Center Square, “You as a parent have rights in regard to a particular thing as far as your child, but do you have a right as a parent to say nobody else can see it, too? No, probably not.”

She went on to say, “If each parent came in and said, ‘I don’t want this, and I don’t like that, and I don’t think we should have it,’ it would just be chaos.”

District distinctions are important, Wellman noted.

“We all come from different districts,” she said. “What my district likes may not be what another district likes.”

Wellman said if voters don’t agree with the legislation, then they can elect a different superintendent.

“If you don’t like what this guy is doing you have that right, and there are school boards and locally elected superintendents in those districts, so there are controls all along the way,” she said.

Controversial education materials have been in the spotlight lately in the form of Initiative 2081 to the Legislature that would establish a parents’ bill of rights and access to any medical or health records for their child.

I-2081 is scheduled for a legislative public hearing on Wednesday, Feb. 28, at 8 a.m.