Parents are asking the Clovis Unified School District to reject a proposed high school sex education curriculum, saying that it is inadequate and still contains dangerous misinformation about sexual health. The school board is scheduled to vote this evening on whether to adopt or reject the proposed curriculum.
The new proposed curriculum comes after parents, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Gay-Straight Alliance Network, represented by the ACLU and pro bonocounsel, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, sued the district in August 2012 for violating the state’s comprehensive sex education law.
Parents who reviewed the new proposal say they are pleased that the district made some improvements as a result of their advocacy, but are frustrated that the changes only address part of the problem and that the proposed curriculum remains out of compliance with California law.
“Teens need complete and accurate sexual health information for whatever point in their lives they become sexually active,” said Aubree Smith, a Clovis parent and nurse whose daughter just graduated from Clovis High School. “The school district should reject this proposal because the curriculum still includes medically inaccurate and biased information that will put teens’ health at risk.”
“Giving some accurate information one day and contradictory misinformation the next is confusing,” said Mica Ghimenti, the mother of three children in Clovis. “Schools should teach our kids the best and most updated information all the time, not just some of the time.” Smith and Ghimenti are both plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Clovis Unified.
Details about Clovis Unified’s new proposed sex education curriculum for high school:
The textbook that remains at the core of the Clovis curriculum is not California Education Code compliant, is out-dated, and provides medically inaccurate and misleading information. In a list of ways to prevent STDs, for example, the textbook never mentions condoms, instead telling students to respect themselves, get plenty of rest, go out as a group, and practice abstinence.
Unlike what has been taught in previous years, the proposed curriculum includes new lessons about condoms and contraception. But it undermines and contradicts this information by relying on other inaccurate and misleading material.
“Sex Still Has a Price Tag,” a video by Pam Stenzel makes false claims, including that some kinds of birth control makes teen girls ten times more likely to contract an STD. 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.”
The proposed curriculum also contains 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.
The stakes are high: the rate of STDs among California teens has been on the rise over the last decade. In Fresno County teens account for nearly a third of chlamydia cases and a quarter of gonorrhea cases, both which can have serious health consequences if they are not detected and treated. Fresno County also has one of the highest rates in California of chlamydia infection among 15-24 year olds. Teen birth rates are dropping across the state, but they remain high for rural areas. Fresno County has had one of the highest teen birth rates in the state for over a decade.
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.
“You can’t pick and choose which parts of the law to follow. California law on sex education programs is clear – and until Clovis Unified follows the law completely, the district is still in violation,” said Elizabeth Gill, staff attorney at the ACLU of Northern California. “These laws exist to ensure the highest standards for California students. At the end of the day, the district isn’t just violating the law, it’s also denying teens critical health information.”
The lawsuit is ongoing.