Bad Sex Ed Costs|School District $467,000

FRESNO, Calif. (CN) – A California school district’s abstinence-only sex education violated state law that requires education about sexual health and HIV prevention, a state judge ruled.
     Clovis Unified School District has violated California law for years by teaching its students that abstinence is the only way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, Fresno County Superior Court Judge Donald Black ruled. He ordered the district to pay $467,433 in legal bills for parents who sued to force the revisions.
     Black noted that one sex education film the district showed students compared a woman who was not a virgin to a “dirty shoe.”
     Black’s May 4 ruling ordered the district to pay more than $450,000 in attorney fees to attorneys for the parents who sued the district.
     Black said the lawsuit was the catalyst that forced the Clovis district to bring its 9th grade sex education courses into compliance with law.
     The district is considering appealing, said spokeswoman Kelly Avants said, noting that there was no trial or proceeding where the court had before it the full evidence of the district’s prior 9th grade curriculum.
     The ruling is the first to interpret California’s 11-year-old law on sex education and disease prevention.
     The 2003 California Comprehensive Sexual Health & HIV/AIDS Prevention Act does not mandate that comprehensive sex ed be taught in schools, but says that if it is, there are certain guidelines that must be followed.
     Under the law, which took effect in 2004, schools must make their sex education programs “age-appropriate” and provide “medically accurate information” on methods of contraception.
     Even if a school opts out of teaching comprehensive sex education, it must teach HIV/AIDS prevention in junior high and again in high school.
     Abstinence can be taught within the context of HIV and AIDS prevention, but abstinence-only education is not permitted in California public schools.
     In 2012, a group of parents sued Clovis Unified School District, claiming its abstinence-oriented materials and not properly educate students about contraception and how to prevent sexually transmitted infections.
     Clovis is in Fresno County, where teenagers account for nearly a third of Chlamydia cases and a quarter of gonorrhea cases, according to the ACLU, which assisted parents in the lawsuit.
     The Clovis school district was accused of including a video in its abstinence-only education that compared a woman who was not a virgin to “a dirty shoe” and another video that “perpetuated sexual orientation bias” by encouraging students to adopt the mantra, “One man, one woman, one life,” Black said in his ruling.
     “Certainly, at a minimum the depth of the sexual health instruction presented to the students of the district varied widely and could contain gender and sexual orientation biased information,” the judge found.
     The district “violated California law for many years before the plaintiff parents began to complain,” and did not change its sex education for years after the complaints came in, the judge said.
     The parents and the ACLU dismissed the lawsuit in February 2014 after the district changed its policies.
     Black ordered the district to pay $467,433 in legal bills to the ACLU and to New York-based firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, for changes in the district’s 9th grade curriculum.
     He declined to award attorney fees for changes to the district’s 7th grade curriculum, which he found were already under way before the lawsuit was filed.
     The district said the award of attorney fees based on the idea that the plaintiffs caused changes in its 9th grade curriculum was “wrong.”
     “It’s important to keep in mind that there was no ruling in the ACLU’s case against the district’s sex ed curriculum; and, therefore, no ruling that said our curriculum did not meet the law. It was only after the plaintiffs dropped their case against the district that they then chose to pursue a claim for attorney fees,” Avants said.
     “We continue to be confident that the district acted appropriately and that our former 9th grade curriculum was unbiased, legally compliant, and not abstinence only; and that the issues raised in plaintiffs’ litigation were not accurate.”
     Avants said credit for the district’s “legally compliant, high quality curriculum” should go to the teachers, nurses and parents who served on a health committee, and whose efforts were under way before the lawsuit.
     “Both of our current 7th and 9th grade sex education curriculum is top of the line, and is more standardized than our previous curriculum,” she said.
     In his fee order, Black dug into the state’s sex education law, ruling that “access to medically and socially appropriate sexual education is an important public right.” Black noted that the curriculum previously used by the Clovis school district violated the law by failing to include the required STD and pregnancy prevention information, by promoting and reinforcing bias in gender and sexual orientation, and by containing medically inaccurate information.
     Phyllida Burlingame, reproductive justice policy director for the ACLU of Northern California, called the ruling a “huge victory for students.”
     “Teens deserve complete, accurate health information, which they’ll need at whatever point in their life they become sexually active,” Burlingame said.

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