Law & Courts

Suit: Calif. District Fails to Provide Comprehensive Sex Ed

By Nirvi Shah — August 27, 2012 2 min read
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Parents, members of the medical community, and other groups are suing a California school district because of its abstinence-only approach to sex education that makes no mention of condoms or other forms of contraception.

The American Academy of Pediatrics of California and the Gay-Straight Alliance Network, along with parents in the Clovis Unified school district in California’s central valley, said in a suit last week that the district is failing to uphold a 2003 law that requires sexual health education in public schools to be comprehensive, medically accurate, science-based, and bias-free. The ACLU said this is the first lawsuit of its kind.

“Our kids need complete, accurate information to help them protect themselves against [sexually transmitted diseases] and unintended pregnancy. That’s information they’ll need at whatever point in their life they become sexually active,” Aubree Smith, a plaintiff in the suit and mother of a 17-year-old daughter at Clovis High School, said in a statement.

The district’s textbook does not mention condoms at all, even in chapters about preventing STDs and unintended pregnancy. Instead, the textbook says that the ways to prevent STDs are to respect yourself, get plenty of rest, go out as a group, and practice abstinence, said the ACLU of Northern California, which is representing the plaintiffs.

Clovis’s curriculum teaches that all people should avoid sexual activity until marriage. Additional materials compare a woman who is not a virgin to a dirty shoe, and suggest that men are unable to stop themselves once they become sexually aroused, the ACLU said.

“We can really save lives with comprehensive sex education. The Central Valley [of California] has high rates of STDs and unintended pregnancy. Sexual health education in schools is the only way to reach many teens and should be a place where they can get reliable health information,” said Tonya Chaffee, an American Academy of Pediatrics physician who treats teens needing sexual health information and care.

“Clovis provides a top-notch education in so many ways, and it’s important that students get the most up-to-date sex education too,” said Mica Ghimenti, the mother of three children and one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

A 2007 congressionally mandated study found that abstinence-only instruction is ineffective at reducing teen sexual activity and that teens who received abstinence-only instruction were less likely to believe that condoms are effective in preventing STDs than students who had no sex education at all.

A 2011 report by the University of California-San Francisco showed that although California’s public schools have expanded sexuality education to comply with the law, many districts still fail to provide students with everything the law requires.

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.