Consent and the Curriculum

What does our student body know about consent and how is it being taught to us as young people?

Téa Schmid and Jane Wang, Reporters

For the past couple of years, consent has been a major topic of discussion around the world. A little over two years ago, the Me Too movement was set into motion after the Harvey Weinstien incident. Since then, the movement has been non-stop in helping survivors share their stories and help others. The Catamount even interviewed students back in November 2017 for the Bothell High School perspective on the movement and the issues surrounding it.

As it has been two years since that very issue, the Catamount has decided to re-open this very conversation and talk directly about the biggest part of sexual assault cases — consent.

According to Planned Parenthood, sexual consent is “an agreement to participate in a sexual activity.” They also explain how it is truly consent when both parties are respected and comfortable. 

We here at the Catamount were curious to see how our student body defined consent. Students seem to have a general grasp of its meaning – quite simply, permission to do something or “saying yes”. But there are mixed ideas on the specifics of the word and how that can be interpreted in various contexts. While one male student explains that he sees consent as “the OK to listen to music during class, or if we may leave the room to get something, even if the teacher could call me by a nickname,” a female student describes it as “a verbal agreement without pressure of any kind to any activity.” Another student interprets consent in sexual activities “like boxing; it’s only okay if both parties consent. If not, it’s a crime.” It is possible that this motley response comes from an unclear district and state health curriculum surrounding sexual and relationship health. 

In order to investigate more into the way that Washington’s health standards are implemented in schools, we also requested interviews with Bothell High School staff members and NSD officials that might have insight into the subject. However, most of those staff members declined, including Mr. Juan Price, Mr. Thomas Bainter, Officer Garrett Ware, Dr. Michelle Reid, and Mr. David Wellington. We were only able to reach Ms. Elizabeth Cano and Mr. Obadiah Dunham, both of whom referred us to the OSPI.

Washington State’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) supervises the health curriculum of public schools across the state. On the OSPI Sexual Health Education page, there are in-depth descriptions of STD/HIV/AIDS prevention lessons, including information on protection, contraception, and medicine. Its official Guidelines for Sexual Health Information and Disease Prevention, last updated in 2005, contain ideas about consent which are less clear. For one thing, the word “consent” is not mentioned a single time in the guidelines. In addressing “communication, decision-making, assertiveness and refusal skills,” “social pressures related to sexual behaviors,” and “exploitative or manipulative relationships,” the curriculum hopes to make consent implicitly understood, on a grander scale that is still somewhat vague. 

The best way to determine how this curriculum works in real time would be to observe it at Bothell High School. Unfortunately, the Catamount staff was unable to reach Bothell’s health class teachers for comment. BHS student comments on Bothell’s health classes vary. On consent, one student said they heard “a single, passing mention.” A female student testifies that she has “hardly been taught [about consent] in school.” Another student claims knowledge of consent “from memes on Tumblr and Instagram.” Overall, there appears to be a consensus that Bothell’s health class discusses consent, but only “on how to say no,” and without specifics, making the general impact of consent teaching in school forgettable to students who will need to know how to use consent in various contexts for the rest of their lives.