Judge Orders Suspension Of CVUSD Parent Notification Policy

San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Thomas Garza on Wednesday, September 6 granted the State of California a temporary restraining order prohibiting the Chino Valley Unified School District from enforcing a policy approved in July requiring school faculty to notify the parents of students in the district’s schools if they reidentify their gender beyond that indicated for them on their birth certificates.
Judge Garza scheduled a hearing for October 13 relating to the underlying case filed August 28 by California Attorney General Rob Bonta in San Bernardino County Superior Court, calling for the Chino Valley Unified School District to be permanently enjoined from enforcing the policy which was passed by a 4-to-1 vote of the school board at a raucous meeting on July 20.
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.”The Chino Valley Unified School District first took up the issue after Republican Assemblyman Bill Essayli with the introduction of Assembly Bill 1314 in March sought, unsuccessfully, to impose statewide a requirement that school officials not keep information pertaining to gender reidentification that students insist upon within a school setting from the parents of those children. AB 1314 died a quiet legislative procedural death when Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, a Democrat and the chairman of the Assembly Education Committee, declined to set a hearing date for the bill before his committee, such that the bill was not given a chance to be considered by the entire Assembly. A handful of school districts throughout the state, with Chino Valley Unified in the lead, thereafter contemplated or indeed used their own authority within the confines of their individual jurisdictions to impose a similar notification requirement.
In instituting the policy, the Chino Valley Unified School District brought to itself a degree of notoriety that went beyond a simple up-or-down vote on the matter. Because of an overflow crowd at the July 20 meeting, the school board in an impromptu move reduced the time limit for public comment from its normal three minutes to one minute. State Superintendent of Schools Tony Thurmond, a former member of the California Assembly, had traveled from Sacramento to Chino to address the board on the matter and lobby against the policy passage. Perhaps assuming that because of his status and generally accepted gravitas within the educational field he would be allowed ample time to make his point, Thurmond began his remarks with a rhetorical flourish that squandered a portion of his allotted speaking time. Before he could fully express his belief that the policy from his perspective would prove hazardous and damaging to some trans students, he was cut off at the one minute point and then subjected to being confronted, like a common citizen, with four district security officers surrounding him at the podium until he relinquished that position.
While other districts in the state, including Murrieta Valley Unified, Temecula Valley Unified and Anderson Union High School District, have passed policies virtually indistinguishable from that of Chino Valley Unified, which replicated the substance of Essayli’s Assembly bill for applicability on a local level, state officials, most notably in the personage of Bonta, settled upon going after Chino Valley Unified singly, in large measure because of the show of what was interpreted as disrespect for the state’s authority, displayed in the treatment accorded Thurmond.
In formulating the policy, district officials were conscious of a potential challenge and had conferred with legal authority, in this case the district’s special counsel, Tony De Marco, before framing and writing the policy, which came to be known as Policy 5020.1. According to De Marco, the policy passed U.S. and California constitutional muster and cut out exceptions from disclosure that allowed students’ statements to counselors to be deemed confidential and be exempt from the parental disclosure requirement. Prior to the board’s vote on July 20, De Marco publicly stated the policy further anticipated issues that might arise from students living in households where parents prove hostile or abusive to their transgender children, such that the district would be required under the law to report to authorities – meaning the appropriate local law enforcement agency – if a parent or parents were to be suspected of abusing his or her or their child because of a declaration of transgenderism. De Marco said relevant interpretations of the U.S. and California constitutions did not hold that disclosing to a parent a student’s gender reidentification was a violation of a student’s constitutional privacy rights.
On July 20, Bonta sent the district a letter in which he cautioned the district that his office might pursue legal action if the policy were approved, since, he said, children are protected by privacy and nondiscrimination laws.
Judge Garza at a hearing on September 6 up front acknowledged that one side or the other in the dispute – the district or the state – was likely to second guess the decision that will ultimately be reached in his courtroom and that it will be appealed to the appellate court and then, most likely, the California Supreme Court. In addition, he predicted, the controversy will likely trigger new laws.
Comparing transitioning from one gender to another to changing religions, Judge Garza said 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.” He seemed to indicate that the district’s policy was generally favored by most parents, who, he said, “won’t take kindly to these discussions.”
Garza said he was troubled by some of the language and references members of the school board and their supporters utilized during the July 20 discussion leading to the policy’s passage, including referring to those intent on transitioning to being delusional and/or mentally ill.
In his representation of the district, De Marco called for a methodical approach examining the policy in all of its aspects, including obtaining testimony from professional experts. He said the district’s board deserved a presumption of authority in setting district policy. He said the state, by rushing to obtain a temporary restraining order, was both prematurely and wrongfully intruding on the district’s authority and prerogatives while seeking to alter district policy and impose its own political will.
De Marco said the policy ensured protection of students, which included having those identifying as transgender being provided with the benefit of their parents participating as part of the district’s “education team,” while looking after the best interest of their children. De Marco, while appearing to acknowledge that there were abusive parents within the Chino Valley community, propounded that did not include all parents. He said involving parents in the discussion of their children’s gender reidentification would allow the district to “figure out if there’s harm at home.”
Deputy California Attorney General Delbert Tran asserted the district’s notification policy imposed an immediate danger of harm to certain vulnerable students. This early in the 2023-24 school year, according to Tran, state officials have learned from district teachers that students fear being “outed.” Those students will be forced into a social “underground,” he said. Students should not be obliged to confront their families about their sexuality or gender choice before they are ready and emotionally equipped to do so, Tran said.
Some parents may have violent tendencies, Tran implied, and he said the policy the district put in place represents a “gamble” with trans students’ safety.
Despite Judge Garza’s ruling, board members with the Orange Unified School District on Thursday night voted 4-to-0 to require notification of parents when their children identify as transgender.
-Mark Gutglueck

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