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King County wins lawsuit, blocks federal government from terminating teen pregnancy prevention program

This press release was provided by the office of King County Executive Dow Constantine. 


King County won an important victory in U.S. District Court after demonstrating that the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) acted unlawfully in abruptly cancelling its Teen Pregnancy Prevention grants two years early.

“We sued the federal government because they are attempting to eliminate funding for programs based on science and evidence in favor of right-wing ideology that is out of touch with reality,” said Executive Constantine. “We stood up for our youth and for teachers who depend on the FLASH curriculum, one of the most respected sexual health education programs in the nation.”

The ruling means HHS must now process King County’s application within 60 days, and it can only deny funding if it can show good cause or that the County failed to comply with the terms of the grant. During the initial three years, the FLASH grant received stellar reviews from HHS.

The federal Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program (TPPP) was originally created to fund science-based approaches to health and sex education. King County’s FLASH sex education curriculum won a five-year, $5 million competitive award through TPPP. FLASH research is underway in schools in the Midwest and rural south

FLASH is used in every school district in King County, and the teen birth rate in King County is now one of the lowest in the nation, 2.5 times lower than the national rate.

The current research is testing the impact of FLASH on students’ ability to delay sexual activity and to protect themselves from pregnancy and STDs.

In his ruling today, Judge John Coughenour wrote:

“HHS failed to articulate a satisfactory explanation for its decision to shorten King County’s project period.”

“HHS’s failure to articulate any explanation for its action, much less a reasoned one based on relevant factors, exemplifies arbitrary and capricious agency action meriting reversal.”

“The Court hereby VACATES HHS’s decision to terminate King County’s grant award and ORDERS the agency to accept and timely process the County’s year-four non-competing continuation application as if HHS had not terminated King County’s grant award.”

Internal documents released during litigation show that newly appointed political aides overruled career officials in terminating the grants, boxing them out of the process and telling them to “get in line.”

In July 2017, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) announced it was cancelling all programs two years early, cutting $2 million from King County– and ignoring the mandate of Congress, which has continually funded the program for nearly a decade.

An abrupt and early end to the teen pregnancy prevention funding would have gutted a vital evaluation of FLASH. The evaluation aims to objectively confirm whether the curriculum increases the number of students who are delaying sex and whether it increases the use of birth control and condoms for those who are sexually active.

Local school districts face pressure to use unproven and harmful ideological-based sexual health programs, and they need the availability of a curriculum that is not only based on science but also has evidence that it works.

“This ruling is such a relief, as we are so close to the finish line for completing this study and building an evidence base for sex education nationwide,” said Public Health Director Patty Hayes. “Our goal with FLASH is to improve the quality of what happens in classrooms across the nation and to protect our most vulnerable youth.”

King County is represented in this suit by the national non-profit, non-partisan legal organization Democracy Forward, as well as Pacifica Law Group of Seattle. The ruling marks the fourth time in recent weeks that federal courts have ruled the Administration terminated TPPP grants unlawfully, and a Class Action lawsuit to preserve other TPPP grants was certified last week.