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California: Judge Rules Abstinence-Only Curriculum Violated State Law

In early May 2015, the Fresno County Superior Court ruled that the Clovis Unified School District’s abstinence-only-until-marriage (AOUM) program violated state law. This is the first-ever ruling involving California’s Comprehensive Sexual Health & HIV/AIDS Prevention Act, passed in 2003, and finds that AOUM instruction being provided in the district was unlawful on the grounds of medical inaccuracy and bias. The suit was brought by a coalition of community members and organizations, including local parents, the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Northern California, the American Academy of Pediatrics California District IX, and the Gay-Straight Alliance Network. In the ruling, Judge Black stated that “access to medically and socially appropriate sexual education is an important public right.”[1]

As previously shared by SIECUS, the lawsuit and resulting changes in instruction are the result of ongoing parental engagement. In 2009, a Central Valley mother discovered that her ninth grade daughter had learned medically inaccurate information about HIV/AIDS and that information about condoms and contraceptives was being withheld in her Family Life/Sex Ed class. In 2010, the District maintained that its sexuality education policy and instruction complied with state law in all respects and that the curriculum in use, Teen Choices, was “unbiased, medically accurate and uses credible up-to-date resources.” However, in response to continued parent complaints about the curriculum, the district announced that it would convene a committee to review school district approved materials. When a July 2011 school board meeting took place with still no discussion of policy or instructional changes for the new school year, Clovis parents feared their concerns would remain unaddressed and issued a formal demand letter. In November 2012, a year after presenting the Clovis School District with the demand letter, the plaintiffs decided to file suit because the district had failed to address the majority of their concerns.[2]

California is one of 13 states in the nation with statutes that require sexuality education, when provided, be medically accurate. Though the ruling only applies to the Clovis School District, public attention brought about by the case has lead other California schools to scale back their AOUM programs.[3] This case highlights the importance of parental engagement and how, even among states with sexuality education mandates and medical accuracy requirements, ensuring compliance is crucial to making sure young people have the information and skills they need to ensure their health and well-being throughout their lives.[4]


[1] Mollie Reilly, “Judge Rules Against Abstinence-Only Sex Ed Program,” Huffington Post, May 12, 2015, accessed May 14, 2015,  www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/12/abstinence-only-sex-ed_n_7270488.html.

[2] American Academy of Pediatrics et al vs. Clovis Unified School District, 12CECG02608, Superior Court of California, County of Fresno, May 4, 2015, accessed May 14, 2015, www.aclunc.org/sites/default/files/Clovis_Ruling_05_04_2015.pdf.

[3] Bob Egelko, “Abstinence-only curriculum is not sex education, judge rules,” San Francisco Chronicle, May 14, 2015, accessed May 14, 2015, www.sfgate.com/education/article/Judge-Abstinence-only-curriculum-is-not-sex-6256481.php.

[4] Martha Kempner, “Judge’s Ruling in California Abstinence-Only Sex Ed Case Shows Importance of Strong Policies,” RH Reality Check, May 19, 2015, accessed May 19, 2015, http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2015/05/19/judges-ruling-california-abstinence-sex-ed-case-shows-importance-strong-policies/

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