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Parents, physicians launch new challenge in sex-ed lawsuit

FRESNO, Calif. -- Parents and physicians filed an update to lawsuit against Clovis Unified School District, seeking permission from the court to add new information about how the district’s revised sex education is still out of compliance with California law.

Last August, the plaintiffs sued the district for violating the state’s comprehensive sex-education law. The lawsuit was brought by two parents in the district, the American Academy of Pediatrics California District IX, and the Gay-Straight Alliance Network.

The plaintiffs are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) with pro bono assistance from the law firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP.

The new challenge in the lawsuit comes after the district adopted a new high school curriculum in June over parents’ objections. The curriculum contains dangerous misinformation about sexual health and teaches that all people, even consenting adults, should avoid sexual activity until they are married. Both the high school and intermediate school sex education remain in violation of California law.

“I’m frustrated and I just don’t understand why the district refuses to provide accurate sexual health information for all students,” said Aubree Smith, a plaintiff in the suit whose daughter just graduated from Clovis High School. “The sex education in Clovis schools is still failing students and provides misinformation that can put young people’s health at risk.”

The updated lawsuit points out these problems:

• The textbooks that Clovis Unified uses for sex education in both high school and intermediate school provide medically inaccurate information in violation of California law. In a list of ways to prevent STDs, for example, the high school textbook never mentions condoms, instead telling students to respect themselves, get plenty of rest, go out as a group, and practice abstinence. This is not just an omission of information, but a distortion that creates an inaccurate picture of how teens can protect themselves, which puts their health at risk.

• The information that the district does provide about condoms and contraception is undermined and contradicted by the district’s reliance on other inaccurate and misleading material. (The core curriculum is based on the textbooks mentioned above.)

• The curricula also contain sexual orientation bias, which violates California law and is harmful to teens’ health. For example, many of the materials teach that sexual activity is only acceptable between a man and a woman who are married and that any sexual activity outside marriage is emotionally, physically and morally detrimental, even among adults.

• Sex education in Clovis also violates the law by promoting gender bias and stereotypes. One video, “No Apologies: The Truth About Life, Love, Sex,” tells students that most boys will lie about having an STD in order to get “sexual favors” while girls only engage in sexual activity “to get love in return, ‘cause that’s what they really want.”

• “Sex Still Has a Price Tag,” a video by Pam Stenzel that the district approved for use in June, provides misinformation about STDs, and tells students that condoms are not effective. Stenzel recently faced wide criticism after a speech at a West Virginia high school during which she told students: “If you take birth control, your mother probably hates you.”

“Clovis Unified is in clear violation of the law and is knowingly putting young people’s health at risk,” said Melissa Goodman, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California. “Teens need complete and accurate sexual health information for whatever point in their lives they become sexually active and California sexual education law mandates we give them that.”

Under California law, sexual health education in public schools must be medically accurate, include science-based information about condoms and contraception as well as abstinence, and be free of bias.

The California Department of Public Health recently attributed California’s declining teen birth rate to California’s comprehensive sex education, but the Clovis Unified School District is still refusing to provide the quality sex education that has been proven effective in protecting students’ health.