Lawsuit filed over Clovis Unified sex ed course

Parents file lawsuit, call district's focus on abstinence outdated.

The Fresno BeeAugust 21, 2012 

Clovis Unified School District was sued Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of parents who say the district's ninth-grade sex education curriculum does not meet state Department of Education guidelines.

The ACLU of Northern California also represents the regional chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and Gay-Straight Alliance Network in the lawsuit, which contends the textbook used by the district isn't on a state-approved list.

In addition, they say the district uses additional materials that are outdated and fail to meet state law for comprehensive sexual health education.

But the district said its course content and procedures for class participation meet state law.

District spokeswoman Kelly Avants said the suit is "a question of differing interpretations of the depth and breadth of a school district's obligation to cover detailed sexual content in its family life materials."

The district also said some of the information in the suit "does not accurately describe existing procedures and practices in Clovis Unified related to parent notification" for participation in the class.

In the lawsuit, a textbook used for the ninth-grade curriculum, "Lifetime Health," published by Holt, Rinehart and Winston, was specifically criticized for its content.

The state Board of Education approves textbooks for kindergarten through eighth grade, but not for high school courses, said Tina Jung, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Education.

She would not comment about the lawsuit or Clovis Unified's course content.

Avants said the district is allowed to tailor its sex education course content -- both textbooks and supplemental materials -- to meet the needs of its community.

But the ninth-grade course gives inaccurate and biased information to students, said Phyllida Burlingame, the ACLU's reproductive justice policy director.

"Schools should teach teens about building healthy relationships, the benefits of delaying sexual activity and accurate information about condoms and birth control," she said.

Instead, the textbook emphasizes sexual abstinence until marriage, Burlingame said.

Parent Aubree Smith, a registered nurse and plaintiff in the case, said she was disappointed by the curriculum.

"We need to give kids the tools to protect themselves, build healthy relationships and have accurate information about birth control and disease prevention," said Smith, whose daughter attends Clovis High School.

ACLU lawyer Elizabeth Gill said efforts began in 2009 to get Clovis Unified to change its seventh- and ninth-grade health courses.

She said the district was slow to make available to lawyers materials used in the courses, although it eventually provided most of what her clients sought.

"It seems to me Clovis has had ample opportunity to come into compliance and has not," Gill said.

Last year, the district revised its seventh-grade course that Smith and other parents had opposed.

The parents still oppose portions of the seventh-grade course, but the lawsuit filed Tuesday focused primarily on the ninth-grade curriculum because that course hasn't been changed, the lawsuit said.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6166, mbenjamin@fresnobee.com or @beebenjamin on Twitter.

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