Abstinence-Only Curriculum Broke California Ed. Law, Court Rules

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on May 14, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

In the first major ruling interpreting California's decade old sex education law, a Fresno court has ruled that the northern California town of Clovis failed to provide adequate education when it adopted a 'abstinence-only until heterosexual marriage' curriculum.

After the Clovis school district refused to change the program, parents and the American Academy of Pediatrics sued. Clovis revised its program and the plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed their suit, but filed for attorneys fees. The school district opposed, describing the suit as a "costly nuisance" and claiming that it had prevailed in the litigation -- providing the court the opportunity to detail just how extensively the school's curriculum had violated the law.

Yes, the Curriculum Violated the Law

Under California's attorney's fees law, the court must determine whether a lawsuit had merit before awarding costs under a catalyst theory. Judge Black was more than happy to do so. Clovis's curriculum had violated the state law for years before plaintiffs' suit forced the district to change, Black found.

Under the California Comprehensive Sexual Health and HIV/AIDS Prevention Act, schools must provide students with comprehensive sex education that includes age-appropriate and medically accurate information on pregnancy, diseases, growth and development, and more. The instruction must be appropriate for students of all genders, races and orientations. As Judge Black noted, Clovis's abstinence-only until heterosexual marriage curriculum fell far short of what the law required.

Don't Start Kissing, or Else!

From the ruling, Clovis's curriculum certainly sounds like a disaster. One video presented to ninth graders compared a non-virgin woman to a dirty shoe, another claimed that men were "physically unable to stop themselves" when they were aroused. One instructor claimed that men because aroused at kissing -- so watch out! -- but women did not. Those videos also asked students to adopt the mantra "one man, one woman, one life," demonstrating sexual orientation bias, Black said. At minimum, the information presented was inconsistent and biased, the court found.

Clovis's sex ed instructors weren't the only ones acting funny, though, the court found. The plaintiffs were entitled to attorney's fees, but the over 2,000 hours of work claimed for a case which generated only two motions and no trial was out of line. Plaintiffs were finally awarded costs of slightly under half a million dollars.

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