The Chino Valley School Board, or primarily four of its members, are under siege from above and below.
At issue is the policy the board passed in July calling on the district’s faculty to notify the parents of a child if he or she reidentifies his or her gender, which is defined if their child changes pronouns, names or seeks to use a gender-based changing room, locker room or restrooms different than their assigned gender at birth.
Some students, the parents of some students, many teachers and the teachers’ bargaining unit, the Chino Teachers Association, protested the change. On July 20, when the board’s four Republican members – Board President Sonja Shaw and trustees James Na, Andrew Cruz and Jon Monroe – voted to begin implementation of the policy, they heard first from California Superintendent of Public Schools Tony Thurmond, who had sojourned from Sacramento that day to be on hand at the Don Lugo High School Auditorium where the board met to accommodate the over-capacity crowd. Thurmond, a Democrat, inveighed against the guideline, stating that “nearly half of students who identify as being LBGTQ+ are considering suicide.” He said the policy would put transgender students who have parents unwilling to accept their gender identification at risk.
That day, just prior to the meeting, California Attorney General Rob Bonta, another Democrat, dashed off a letter to the school board in which he offered his opinion that the notification policy might intrude on students’ privacy rights and otherwise interfere with educational access. Students individually have the right and discretion to determine under what circumstances and when they should make disclosure of their gender identity and to whom, Bonta insisted. He vowed that his office would act to see that right is upheld. On August 28, Bonta in his capacity as state attorney general filed suit against the Chino Valley Unified School District to stop enforcement of the mandated notification policy.
Bonta asserted that the need to prevent “mental harm, emotional harm and physical harm” to those students who are products of families who are not accepting of their choice to deviate from their birth or biological gender trumps the right of all parents to be informed of their children’s identity choice. “This policy is destructive,” he said. “It’s discriminatory and it’s downright dangerous. It has no place in California which is why we have moved in court to strike it down.”
In a state dominated by Democrats, wherein every statewide political office from governor on down is held by a Democrat and both houses of the state legislature have Democratic supermajorities, the four-fifths Republican Chino Valley School Board was at a distinct disadvantage. While general media accounts of the passage of the policy and the attorney general’s lawsuit were relatively straightforward, the language contained within the lawsuit itself, was inflammatory. In it, Bonta asserted that the policy “has placed transgender and gender nonconforming students in danger of imminent, irreparable harm from the consequences of forced disclosures.” Trangender students, as a consequence of the school district action were, Bonta said, “under threat’’ and “in fear,” facing “the risk of emotional, physical, and psychological harm from non-affirming or unaccepting parents or guardians.”
Bonta charged that the policy “unlawfully discriminates against transgender and gender nonconforming students, subjecting them to disparate treatment, harassment, and abuse, mental, emotional, and physical.” Bonta, California’s highest ranking law enforcement authority, said the “board’s plain motivations in adopting Policy 5020.1 were to create and harbor animosity, discrimination, and prejudice towards these transgender and gender nonconforming students, without any compelling reason to do so.”
Advocates for transgender youth piled on, characterizing the majority members of the school board as “homophobic” and “transphobic” and “bigots.”
Tony Hoang the executive director of Equality California, an LGBTQ civil rights group, stated that the district’s policy was increasing the “anti-LGBTQ+ hate we are experiencing.”
The Chino Valley Unified School Board majority was being outmuscled politically and legally, outmaneuvered in terms of the presentation of its position to the public at virtually ever turn. On Wednesday, September 6, the district board majority’s fortunes seemingly reached their nadir when during the first hearing on the lawsuit, San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Thomas Garza granted the State of California a temporary restraining order prohibiting the Chino Valley Unified School District from enforcing the policy. In doing so, Judge Garza telegraphed that the court was favorably predisposed toward Bonta’s position by his remarks in which he seemed to suggest the rights with regard to gender transitioning were as basic to the U.S. and California constitutions as religious freedom when he analogized changing from one gender to another to making a religious conversion, while stating that under his analysis, Chino Valley Unified’s Policy 5020.1 qualified as being “too broad, too general” while lacking “clear purpose or reference of parental support and involvement.”
Despite that string of setbacks, the Chino Valley Unified School District Board majority in recent weeks and days has seen what appeared to be its eroding political position spontaneously shored up by a multitude of developments from disparate areas around the Golden State.
Despite the succession of legal and political buzzsaws the Chino Valley Unified School District ran into, a multitude of California school boards have replicated what was done in the Chino Valley in July, and the elected members of those school boards have been bold and open in their defiance of Bonta, the attorney general’s office, Thurmond and his state office, as well as their Democrat colleagues in Sacramento. A few dared Bonta to file suit against their individual districts, just as he had against Chino Valley Unified. To date, no fewer than six other districts – Dry Creek Joint Elementary School District, Rocklin Unified School District, Orange Unified School District, Murrieta Valley School District, Anderson Union High School District and Temecula Valley Unified School District – have passed policies identical or essentially indistinguishable from the one in Chino Valley. There is a report that 20 other districts are in the discussion phase about adopting similar policies subject to a vote of their boards. The Sentinel was able to verify seven such discussions are taking, or have taken, place.
While LGBQT community activists have turned out en masse at those local school board meetings where parent notification policies have been voted on to go on record as being in opposition to the requirement or otherwise lodge protests, many are recurrent visitors who live outside those jurisdictions. It appears that among the local residents who have attended such public hearings prior to those votes, a decided majority of those are parents or individuals supporting the notification policies.
Professionally conducted polls using modern statistical methods show that parents put a premium on their traditional rights to be kept apprised of all aspects of their children’s education. 84 percent of California voters support local laws that require parents to be notified of changes in a child’s health.
A non-scientific poll conducted by the Sentinel since the beginning of the month indicates that more than 88 percent or eight-ninths of Republicans of the age of majority in San Bernardino County surveyed support the right of parents to be notified about any changes in their gender identification, that more than 71 percent of Democrats of voting age in San Bernardino County support the right of parents to be notified about any decisions their children make with regard to their gender status and 100 percent of those without any specified political affiliation residing in San Bernardino County surveyed by the Sentinel supported informing parents about any gender identification alteration their children make within the context of their school attendance.
While very vocal LGBQT community advocates have loudly condemned the districts that have pushed ahead with the parent notification requirement, saying the policy of “forced outing” is damaging to the learning environment and a socially repressive and discriminatory measure, that reasoning is running head on into parents and students willing to reject those characterizations, who insist that if an individual is determined to identify himself or herself as a gender other than that one assigned to him or her at birth in the public setting of a school, the expectation of confidentiality is not only unrealistic but untenable.
Moreover, Bonta’s assertion that a constitutional right to privacy extends to keeping such information from parents simply does not stand up to exacting legal scrutiny, parental rights advocates maintain. They pointed out that the actual court decision by U.S. District Court Judge John Mendez in a case brought against the Chico Unified School District by a parent who alleged the district had violated her constitutional rights by failing to tell her that her child had asked to use a different gender pronoun did not, as LGBQT advocates and even Bonta have implied, reach a determination that students have privacy rights under the California and United States constitutions that prohibit disclosure of their gender identity to their parents. Judge Mendez’s ruling was that the parent did not have a constitutional right to that information rather than that the child had a constitutional right to withhold it.
Those supporting the concept of parental notification, after initially being intimidated by the ferocity of the reaction against the Chino Valley Unified School District’s policy, have gradually gotten their sea legs and have become less reticent in expressing their views, indeed have become quite bold in insisting that the rights of parents in raising their children take precedence over the children’s trepidation at having their parents learn about any of hundreds of variations in their evolving orientation to the world.
At the same time, advocates of parental notification have come to realize that their rights of expression remain in the face of whatever procedural actions or legal decisions that are made with regard to the matter. They recognize that while Bonta is in a position to take the Chino Valley Unified School District to court to contest its policy, his authority as attorney general does not extend to muzzling them or preventing them from expressing their belief that parents have a right to remain involved in the education and raising of their children and that the state does not have the power to prevent them from engaging in such involvement.
“People are telling Bonta, basically, ‘Screw you. We’re not afraid of you,’” Erin Friday, a lawyer whose daughter previously assumed a male gender identity after being introduced to the concept of transgenderism in a comprehensive seventh grade sex-education class she was enrolled in at a public school and who has since resumed her female identity, told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
Friday has taken a lead in advocating against schools maintaining secrecy with regard to student’s health or sexual identity issues when that involves preventing parents from having access to information.
The Sentinel has obtained a recorded interview with Friday in which she said, “Parents should know that their child is being called another name at school. Parents should know if the child is going to school and going into a trans closet and changing clothes at school. That happens in California. Parents should know that schools are giving out trans tape so that girls can tape down their breasts and boys can tape down their genitals and girls can ball it up and create a fake genital. Parents should know this and parents should have the right to stop it. California has just funded 10,000 new school counselors. That sounds like a good thing. In my former life, I would have been like ‘That’s great because mental health is such a problem for our kids.’ But I know that those 10,000 new school counselors are 10,000 new indoctrinators. They are 10,000 new secret-keepers. Once a child goes to a school counselor, parents don’t even know, they don’t have a right to know, that their child is going to a counselor every single day.”
Though the four-member Republican majority on the Chino Valley Unified School Board remains at something of a disadvantage in Democrat-dominated California, particularly as applies if the progressive Democrats decide to press the advantage the Democrats have in both houses of the state legislature and pass into law a bill that outright prevents school districts, schools, school administrators and teachers from informing parents about the on-campus gender identification of their children, that advantage is not absolute. In July, when the Chino School Board passed the parental notification policy, that development played out in a relatively limited venue, without too many people paying attention. Over the last two months, however, the issue has garnered more and more publicity, and not only in the Chino Valley, but San Bernardino County, Southern California, the State of California as a whole, as well as nationwide. If both formal and informal polls are anywhere near accurate, somewhere in the neighborhood of 75 to 80 percent of California’s voting population is in favor of parental notification. If members of the Democrat-dominated California Legislature embark on creating laws to disenfranchise parents throughout the state from the education of their own children, large numbers of Democrats could see themselves paying an unenviable political price for doings so.
More telling still is that within the last two weeks in the court system, or more specifically the federal court system, the legal theory that minor students have privacy rights that preclude their parents from learning about their gender identity – the central premise in the lawsuit Bonta filed against the Chino Valley Unified School District – has been soundly rejected.
In April, Elizabeth Mirabelli and Lori Ann West, middle school teachers in the Escondido Union School District, filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California against the Escondido Union School District Board of Education, the California State Board of Education, the California Department of Education and State Superintendent of Schools Tony Thurmond over a district policy which requires them to dissemble and outright mislead parents when they face a situation in which students have assumed a gender at a variance with their natural sex.
The lawsuit states teachers are required to use “any pronouns or a gender-specific name requested by the student during school, while reverting to biological pronouns and legal names when speaking with parents in order to actively hide information about their child’s gender identity from them.”
Mirabelli and West contend in the suit that their First Amendment rights were violated by the district in its requirement that they lie to parents.
In his ruling issued September 14, Senior United States District Judge Roger Benitez wrote, “A parent’s right to make decisions concerning the care, custody, control, and medical care of their children is one of the oldest of the fundamental liberty interests that Americans enjoy. However, if a school student expresses words or actions during class that may be the first visible sign that the child is dealing with gender incongruity or possibly gender dysphoria, conditions that may (or may not) progress into significant, adverse, life-long social-emotional health consequences, would it be lawful for the school to require teachers to hide the event from the parents?”
Judge Benitez concluded that the teachers’ religious beliefs and free speech rights were violated by the Escondido Union School District’s policy, and wrote that students in the position of being caught between attending school using one gender identity while maintaining a different gender identity at home would be harmed because they need “parental guidance and possibly mental health intervention to determine if the incongruence is organic or whether it is the result of bullying, peer pressure, or a fleeting impulse. Parental involvement is essential to the healthy maturation of schoolchildren. The Escondido Union School District has adopted a policy without parent input that places a communication barrier between parents and teachers.”
The court granted Mirabelli and West a preliminary injunction against the district policy.
What was revealed during the course of Mirabelli’s and West’s litigation was that school staff and teachers at the school where they taught were sharing with one another lists of students that essentially revealed which students at the school had changed gender, as those lists provided the names and pronouns teachers should use when dealing with the students in the educational setting and the other names to use when communicating with parents. One exhibit, a 2022 email, demonstrated many parents were unaware of their students’ preferred names and pronouns.
One consideration that went into the state’s filing of the suit against the Chino Valley Unified School District was the anticipated expense the district would need to go to. There was a prospect that, in order to avoid the cost of litigation, the district would simply rescind its policy and move for an early dismissal of the suit.
As it turned out, however, the Chicago-based Liberty Justice Center has stepped in to represent the school board and the district. It is to carry out that work pro bono, at no cost to the district.
“I can’t believe we’re at a point in America where authoritarians in power are fighting this hard to keep sexual secrets about children from their own parents,” said Liberty Justice Center Board Member Corey DeAngelis. “They are now using the heavy hand of the state to subvert local control and try to strip away the most fundamental parental rights. I’m proud of the parents in Chino Valley Unified who are fighting back for their constitutional right to direct the upbringing of their children.”
Chino Valley Unified School District Board President Sonja Shaw said, “The state can’t intimidate parents who have spoken loud and clear—their parental rights will not be taken away, and we won’t be intimated into giving them up. We have the law on our side and look forward to our day in court as parents will be watching coast to coast across the nation.”
The Chino Valley School Board, or primarily four of its members, are under siege from above and below.