This May, a California judge ruled that indoctrinating students on the need to remain celibate before marriage or that the only way to prevent STDs or pregnancy is through abstinence, does not qualify as a legitimate form of sex education.
Fresno County Superior Court Judge Donald Black’s ruling put schools on notice that “young people need complete, accurate health information required by law,” said Phyllida Burlingame, director of Reproductive Justice Policy for the ACLU. “This is the first time that abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula have been found to be medically inaccurate.”
Judge Black’s ruling applies only to the 40,000-student Clovis Unified School District, but it’s significant because it’s the first time a judge has interpreted California’s 11-year-old law on sex education and disease prevention.
California requires school districts to make sex-ed programs “age-appropriate.” Starting at the seventh grade, students are taught that abstinence is the only fail-proof way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. But the law demands schools provide “medically accurate information” on all contraceptives that are approved by the FDA, along with education on how to prevent HIV and AIDS.
A group of parents in Clovis filed suit in November 2012, saying the school district was using texts and videos that focused on abstinence and made little or no mention of contraceptives or claimed they were ineffective. One video, described in Black’s ruling, compared a woman who was not a virgin to a dirty shoe. Other videos “perpetuated sexual orientation bias,” the judge said, including one that encouraged students to adopt the mantra, “One man, one woman, one life.”
The parents dismissed their suit in February 2014 after the district changed its policies. But Black, in a ruling issued April 28, ordered the district to pay attorneys’ fees to the parents’ lawyers, saying the suit had been the catalyst that led Clovis to bring its ninth-grade courses into compliance with the law.
A 2011 UC San Francisco study found that in a sampling of California school districts, more than 40 percent failed to properly teach contraceptive methods in middle school. In high school, 16 percent of students were taught that condoms were ineffective, and 70 percent of districts failed to comply the law that requires age-appropriate materials about sexual orientation.
[This post has been updated]