King County has scored a win in U.S. District Court against the federal Department of Health and Human Services. The case revolves around the department’s decision to cut short a grant to King County to research the effectiveness of its sexual-education curriculum.
Schools in King County have long been using a sex-ed curriculum called FLASH. Public Health Seattle & King County wanted to know how effective it is, so the public health department applied for and received a federal research grant to roll out the curriculum in Minnesota and Georgia and then study whether it led to more young people delaying sex or using birth control if they did decide to have intercourse.
The study was proceeding as planned. Then last summer, the county’s public health department got word that the federal government was terminating the grant early.
“Obviously, if you’re in the middle of a five-year grant, you’ve planned for five full years to have a successful study, and it felt like the rug was pulled out from under us all of a sudden,” said Heather Maisen, family planning program manager at Public Health.
County Executive Dow Constantine said the move by Health and Human Services to cut funding was ideological.
“They terminated the grant because they don’t want teens getting science-based family planning and sexual health information,” he said. “The fact is that through this program and through other efforts, we’ve been able to dramatically reduce the teen birth rate in King County. It’s one of the lowest in the nation.”
U.S. District Court Judge John Coughenour ruled that decision by the federal government was “arbitrary and capricious.” He said Health and Human Services has to go ahead and process King County’s application for the fourth year of its funding.
Spokespeople for HHS didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment, but the department argued in court filings that the grant was only an annual commitment and the department had the leeway to change its funding priorities.