Court Rules Biased, Abstinence-Only Teaching Isn’t Sex Ed. Sadly, That’s “Historic”

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Twelve years after California lawmakers passed a widely-ignored sex education law a Fresno County Superior Court judge has ruled for the first time that a school district was out of compliance.

Judge Donald S. Black told the Clovis Unified School District, “Access to medically and socially appropriate sexual education is an important public right,” and their abstinence-only sex ed curriculum “violated California law for many years.”

But by the time he ruled, the lawsuit, filed in 2012, had already been settled. His ruling came during an argument over court costs. And he sounded a little pissed off.  

The plaintiffs, including parents, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Gay-Straight Alliance Network, sued the school district for not providing “comprehensive, medically accurate, objective and bias-free sexual health and HIV/AIDS prevention education (‘sex ed’) in violation of California law.”

After years of complaints and threats of a lawsuit, the school district made changes before and after the suit was filed that satisfied the litigants. The lawsuit was dropped, but the plaintiffs asked that the school district be assigned its court costs. The district argued that it was the “prevailing party” and the plaintiffs should pay for everything.

The district argued that the lawsuit was a “costly nuisance” because it had already complied with some of the demands and was preparing to deal with the rest. Judge Black wrote:

“In characterizing the suit as a ‘costly nuisance,’ the District seems to ignore the fact that its sex ed curriculum violated California law for many years after the plaintiff parents began to complain and even years after the complaints began the District still had not changed its sex ed curriculum.”

Judge Black’s 53-page ruling reviewed the district’s curriculum choices and interaction with the community over the years He noted four areas where the district sex ed program fell short.

1) The district cited repealed sections of the Education Code in shaping its curriculum rather than the 2003 California Comprehensive Sexual Health and HIV/AIDS Prevention Education Act. 2) It “required materials to ‘stress’ sexual abstinence ‘as the only 100% effective pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease prevention method.” 3) District materials “discussed contraceptives only with respect to preventing disease, not contraction.” 4) The district required parents to opt-in to HIV/AIDS education for their children, rather than the more inclusive opt-out option.

The judge also wasn’t crazy about the district’s choice of educational videos: “ ‘Go A.P.E.’ ” compared a woman who is not a virgin to a dirty shoe. The video ‘Never Regret the Choice’ stated boys and men are physically unable to stop themselves once they become sexually excited.” It also encouraged students to adopt the gay-unfriendly mantra, “one man, one woman, one life.” 

The ACLU, lawyers for the plaintiffs along with Simpson Thatcher & Bartlett LLP, called the ruling “historic” and wrote, “In a county where teens account for nearly a third of chlamydia cases and a quarter of gonorrhea cases, the district’s high school curriculum provided no information about how to prevent sexually transmitted infections.”

Judge Black did agree with the district that it had reformed its 7th-grade curriculum before the lawsuit was filed, so they didn’t have to pay the plaintiffs’ fees for that. But the 9th-grade had not been fixed and the district was wrong: it was not the prevailing party just because the plaintiffs dropped the suit.

So, they got the rest of the costs and a lot of bad publicity, while the law was bolstered.

“This is the first time that abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula have been found to be medically inaccurate,” the ACLU’s Phyllida Burlingame told the San Francisco Chronicle.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Abstinence-Only Curriculum Is Not Sex Education, Judge Rules (by Bob Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle)

“Historic” Ruling States that Abstinence-Only Sex Ed Isn’t Sex Ed (by Tara Culp-Ressler, ThinkProgress)

Historic Ruling in ACLU Lawsuit: Abstinence-Only Sex Ed Violated State Law (American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California)

American Academy of Pediatrics, et al v. Clovis Unified School District (Fresno County Superior Court) (pdf)

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