Yucaipa-Calimesa School District 86s Appeal For Parental Notification

Contrary to common expectations, the vast majority of parents and other community members who attended the November 14 Yucaipa-Calimesa Joint Unified School District evinced no enthusiasm for a parental rights group’s call for the district to put into place a parental notification policy relating to students seeking gender transformation.
On July 20, the Chino Unified School District generated local, state, national and international controversy with its passage of a policy that mandated that the district’s faculty notify the parents of a child in writing within three days if he or she reidentifies his or her gender, which is defined by the student changing pronouns, names or seeking to use a gender changing room or a locker room or restrooms for a gender different than the one assigned that child at birth. The policy further requires parental notification when a student tells faculty or a counselor about any violence he or she has experienced or of any contemplation of suicide.
In ratifying the policy, which was virtually identical to one outlined in an Assembly bill introduced by Republican Assemblyman Bilal Essayli earlier this year that failed to make it out of committee in the Democrat-controlled state legislature, the Chino Valley Unified School District board majority defied, in addition to lesbian-gay-bisexual-transsexual-queer (LGBTQ) community advocates, a powerful swathe of California’s political establishment.
While many people consider keeping parents abreast of the activity of their children in a school setting to be a justifiable and even commonsense approach to education and social conduct, there are others who feel differently.
On July 20, California Superintendent of Public Schools Tony Thurmond sojourned to Chino from Sacramento to be on hand at the Don Lugo High School Auditorium where the Chino Valley Unified School District Board met to accommodate an over-capacity crowd intent on weighing in on the policy. 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 same 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.
Over those objections, the school board approved the policy.
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.”
The suit, filed in San Bernardino County Superior Court, asserted that the policy “has placed transgender and gender nonconforming students in danger of imminent, irreparable harm from the consequences of forced disclosures.” Transgender students, as a consequence of the school district action were, according to Bonta, “under threat’’ and “in fear,” facing “the risk of emotional, physical, and psychological harm from non-affirming or unaccepting parents or guardians.”
There exists a clear divide in opinion with regard to the subject. Parental rights advocates, not unreasonably, assert that parents have a defensible interest in knowing what their children are engaged in while in school and a right to know the content of the educational curriculum students are being exposed to. Moreover, they assert, declaring the behavior or activity of students while they are in a public setting – i.e., in attendance at a public school funded by taxpayer dollars – to be confidential or subject to privacy privilege is a downright perversion of thought and purpose. They maintain that parents have a right – as was enunciated in the Chino Unified School District’s policy – to be informed if their children are engaged in an effort to change gender. The very idea that an individual – either of the age of majority or not – will be able to keep his or her gender transformation a secret is absurd, they say, and it is better for parents to learn of any such reality sooner rather than later.
The sharp divide on this subject is demonstrable in examining the reactions to it provoked among judges by the legal actions filed with regard to it.
In reaction to Attorney General Bonta’s lawsuit, two San Bernardino County Superior Court Judges, Judge Thomas Garza and Judge Michael Sachs, made statements, findings and rulings that would seem to indicate they are sympathetic to the argument that students have privacy rights with regard to their sexual orientation and gender identification which overcome their parents right to know about such things. Judge Garza in his size-up of the dueling assertions made by the California Attorney General’s Office and the attorney for the school district, likened making a gender transformation to a religious conversion. Judge Sachs granted the State Attorney General’s request to enjoin the district from enforcing the policy while the litigation with regard to it is ongoing.
On the other hand, Senior United States District Judge Roger Benitez, who is hearing a case brought in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California by two teachers in the Escondido Union School District in San Diego County challenging their district’s policy that require that they use the names and gender references specified by students within the school’s educational setting but refer to those students by their given names and the gender provided on their birth certificates when speaking to those students’ parents during parent-teacher conferences, holds a different perspective, or so it would seem, from either Judge Garza or Judge Sachs. Judge Benitez ruled that it was a violation of the teachers’ First Amendment rights and tantamount to making them lie by requiring them to withhold from students’ parents information relating to the gender students had assumed in a school setting.
Though it is not absolutely the case, Democrats in general hue toward that side of the divide on this issue taken by advocates of the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transexual-queer community, while Republicans side more often with those who are parental rights advocates. There are exceptions to this trend and some Democrats feel strongly that they have a right to be informed of their children’s choices and there are some Republicans who feel students should have the freedom to comport themselves in whatever way they wish in a school setting without having to answer to their parents. It is worthy of note that the four members of the Chino Valley Unified School District Board of Education who approved the parental notification policy are Republicans and that both California Attorney General Rob Bonta and State Superintendent of Schools Tony Thurmond are Democrats.
In the just concluded election off-year/odd-numbered year election season during which a minority of states and districts around the country carry out balloting, elements of the Republican Party sought to use the parental notification issue to spur support for Republican candidates. One Republican-leaning national activism organization, Moms For Liberty, took up the cause of parental notification in many of those venues, sponsoring candidates for school boards who actively advocated that school districts come down on the side of parents with regard to their children taking on a gender identity other than their biological one or that designated for them at birth. While going into these various campaigns those embracing this strategy were of the impression it would have at least a mildly positive impact on the prospects of those Republican candidates using it, many were dismayed to experience the opposite effect. By and large, most of the candidates supported by the pro-parental notification organization Moms For Liberty lost. This was generally the case in states such as Kentucky, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
In California and specifically in San Bernardino County, over the last 40 years, the vast majority of political subdivisions – including water districts, fire districts, school districts and cities that held its elections in off-year/odd-numbered years or in months such as April have changed the timing of those elections to consolidate them with the majority of jurisdictions that hold their elections in even-numbered years in correspondence with the state legislative, congressional, gubernatorial and presidential elections have . Thus, political operatives from both major parties and their affiliates are at this point – in late 2023 – making preparations for the elections to be held in 2024, those being the March 5 California Primary and the November 5 Presidential General Election.
One such Republican-affiliated organization, the Civil Review Board, is testing the waters to see to what degree the issue of parental notification can be brought to bear in next year’s elections to bring voters who are normally on the fence somewhere between loyalty to the Republican Party and loyalty to the Democrat Party or who are not certain to show up to vote at all to participate in those elections and, when they do show up, support Republicans. The Civil Review Board, which is tinged with a certain degree of religiosity, in particular Christian fundamentalist religious philosophy, celebrates itself as “a private, nationwide organization designed to hold school boards and administrators accountable to the parents and community of the children they were elected to serve, to inform the public and return the voice of authority to the parents, and to prepare members of the community for elected school board positions.”
Recognizing that in many school districts a secular dedication to “liberal arts” prevails, the Civil Review Board has striven to set up shadow school boards to counter the liberal philosophies its members believe have overwhelmed conventional public education. A method used by the Civil Review Board is to hold what are referred to as “boardless board meetings,” which are described as “a parent/community meeting, held by your Civil Review Board, with the intention of providing the parents the voice of authority in their respective school districts. As a community, we will identify, prioritize and prepare for our next school board meeting address.”
In essence, what Civil Review Board participants do is coordinate ahead of time how to present proposals for action or policy change to a school board that is otherwise unlikely to embrace that action or policy, and articulate the purpose of the proposal in such a way to enhance the chances that the ideas presented will be taken seriously, considered, voted upon and, in some cases, adopted.
It is recognized that in a good number of San Bernardino County’s communities there is little prospect of utilizing an issue like parental notification to animate a critical mass of voters into supporting Republicans who are candidates for various political offices from Congress to the state legislature to county and city offices right down to positions on water boards or fire boards or school boards to get them elected, since in many communities the number of Democrats far outnumber Republicans. In others, particularly where there is a solid number of Republican voters in place, constituting in some cases more registered Republicans than registered Democrats or a near equal number of registered Republicans to the number of Democrats, animating Republicans is seen as a possible means of electing Republicans to office in greater numbers than Democrats. One of the reasons this is the case is that Republicans tend to get out and vote in greater numbers do the more numerous Democrats.
Republicans in San Bernardino County and their political affiliates such as the Civil Review Board believe that in several communities where the Republican-to-Democrat ratios are favorable to the GOP – those being Apple Valley, Baker, Barstow Heights, Big Bear Lake, Big River, Chino Hills, Daggett, Helendale, Hesperia, Indian Wells Valley, Lake Arrowhead, Needles, Newberry Springs, Phelan, Pinon Hills, Silver Valley, Trona, Twentynine Palms, Wrightwood, Yermo, Yucaipa and Yucca Valley – they can exploit the parental notification issue to drive more and more Republicans to the polls and claim victory next March and November. In Yucaipa, where the Republicans hold a commanding 16,325 registered voters or 47.6 percent to 8,809 registered voters or 25.7 percent advantage over the Democrats, the Civil Review Board was confident it could bring the parental notification issue to bear to aid the Republicans.
Accordingly, the Civil Review Board requested that the Yucaipa Calimesa Joint Unified School District set up a discussion with regard to the parental notification concept. The district’s board accommodated that request, putting a discussion item on the school board agenda for November 14.
If the members of the Civil Review Board and in particular their representative selected for the evening of November 14, Travis Burton, thought that they could seize control of the public forum of the school board meeting and create a momentum that would stampede the school board into a commitment to either adopt on its own the parental notification policy or, even better from the perspective of those seeking to assist the Republican Party in the upcoming election cycle, place a measure on the ballot relating to such a policy, things didn’t play out as was hoped.
The ploy might have failed, at least in part, because there were on hand in the audience that night a fair number of student lifestyle privacy advocates at the ready to offer countervailing viewpoints. It appears that the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transsexual-queer community had been alerted to the Civil Review Board effort and had sent emissaries to the meeting to prevent parental rights partisans from overpowering the board. Indeed, all seven members of the public who addressed the topic other than Burton spoke out against the concept of a parental notification policy.
One opined that teachers should concern themselves with educating rather than policing the sexuality of their students. Another said schools should be a “sanctuary” for gender-confused or gender-ambiguous students. Two emphasized the mental instability of gender-confused and gender-ambiguous students and that subjecting them to scrutiny might increase the potential that they would foredo themselves or otherwise engage in self-harm. Two sought to downplay the potential that parents being left in the dark about their children’s comportment in school might lead those students into undergoing body changing surgeries, while suggesting that simply allowing teenagers to express themselves by assuming names or pronouns without parental interference is beneficial and in no way harmful. Allowing students to feel safe in expressing themselves in an educational setting is paramount, one said.
During the time he had to address the board and the capacity crowd in attendance at the meeting, Burton, taking on something of the aspect of Daniel in the lions’ den, drifted somewhat from a polemic about practical policy within an educational context into the province of ideology. In this way, several of his remarks were wrapped in religious overtones, as he referenced the need for the board members to show “moral courage” and “stand bravely” against experiments in “social engineering” engaged in by liberals and progressives while adhering to the principles of God’s law and acting morally. He referenced the “God-given rights of parents” and “an out-of-control state government” and “damage to the family structure [and] children through the public education system.” He equated, without any explanation, a district policy that allows students to take on the guise of a gender different from the dictates of their biology to “reduced opportunities for success and advancement for our children in the marketplace.”
Burton did manage, after setting aside the religious allusions and references to God and morality, to cogently beseech the board to look into parental notification policies adopted by other districts, including Chino Valley Unified, and he made an articulate and nearly eloquent rationale for such a parental notification policy. “Parental notification, parental rights are fundamental to the direct care and upbringing of children, including the parents’ right to be informed and be directly involved in all aspects of their children’s education to promote the best possible outcome.”
Despite the overflow crowd that completely filled the 140-occupant capacity board meeting chamber and spilled into another conference room at the district headquarters, only eight members of the public addressed the school board on the parental notification topic. It was suggested that perhaps as many as two dozen of those present had come prepared to recommend that the board adopt a parental notification policy but that when it grew obvious that a good number of those in the crowd were hostile to their position on the topic and were adamantly in favor of preserving students’ confidentiality, they lost their nerve and did not speak.
Without a support network, Burton proved unable to mount an argument persuasive enough to convince the board to adopt the policy he and his group favored.
In addition, the board was likely influenced by the remarks of the district’s general counsel, Matt
Soleimann Pour, who opined that were the district to adopt a parental notification policy, “The risk of litigation is immense,” given that Bonta has filed suit against Chino Valley Unified over such policy and is contending in doing so that the policy is unconstitutional and discriminatory. Soleimann Pour said the danger of litigation would stem not only from the California Attorney General’s Office, which would tie the district up in state court, but that there would be a further hazard of lawsuits filed by individuals against the district in federal court.
-Mark Gutglueck

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