Sunday, June 16, 2024

California sues Chino school district, aiming to end policy notifying parents of student gender changes

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SACRAMENTO — 

California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta filed a lawsuit Monday against the Chino school district, ordering an end to a policy that requires notifying parents if their children change their gender identity, alleging it is discriminatory and violates civil rights and privacy laws.

The “parental notification” policy, which has been proposed by a handful of conservative-leaning districts in California, puts transgender and gender-nonconforming students in “danger of imminent, irreparable harm” by potentially forcibly “outing” them at home before they’re ready, according to the lawsuit.

“They are in real fear that the district’s policy will force them to make a choice: either ‘walk back’ their constitutionally and statutorily protected rights to gender identity and gender expression, or face the risk of emotional, physical and psychological harm from non-affirming or unaccepting parents or guardians,” states the lawsuit, which asks the San Bernardino County Superior Court to immediately ban the practice.

The state’s lawsuit against Chino Valley Unified escalates culture war debates playing out on some school boards in red pockets of deep-blue California and puts districts that have proposed similar policies, including Murrieta Valley Unified and Orange Unified, on alert.

“I refuse to stand by and allow Chino Valley or any district board of education to put our children at risk or infringe upon their rights, especially not one of our most vulnerable at-risk groups,” Bonta said at a news conference in Los Angeles. “Across the country and in our own backyard, the LGBTQ+ community is under attack, and transgender and gender-nonconforming students are on the front lines.”

Last month, the Chino Valley Unified school board, which represents more than 26,000 students, voted to approve a policy that alerts parents if a child requests to be “identified or treated” as a gender other than their “biological sex” or gender listed on their birth certificate. The policy includes student requests regarding names, pronouns and bathroom and sports preferences.

Chino Valley Unified spokesperson Andi Johnston said that the policy “does protect transgender students,” pointing to provisions that call for teachers and school staff to notify child protective services or law enforcement if a student “believes they are in danger” or has been harmed at home because of their gender identity.

“In these circumstances, CVUSD staff will not notify parents or guardians, but rather, wait for the appropriate agencies to complete their investigations regarding the concerns shared by the student,” Johnston said in an email.

The lawsuit comes amid raucous school board meetings over the policy and other political flash points such as critical race theory and LGBTQ+-inclusive textbooks. Last week, more than 100 demonstrators opposing LGBTQ+ education marched from Los Angeles City Hall to the L.A. Unified School District headquarters.

Supporters of the notification policies have echoed national Republican criticisms of decisions regarding transgender youths, and voiced frustrations about alleged government overreach and a lack of “parental rights” inflamed by COVID-19 classroom shutdowns and vaccine requirements.

The parent notification policy illegally discriminates against students based on gender and violates the California Constitution’s promise of equal rights and a right to privacy, according to the lawsuit.

Bonta, who is considering a run for governor in 2026, said school board members who approved the policy have “broken their oath” as elected officials. His office had warned the district the policy was likely illegal before filing the suit Monday.

“They have taken great pains to go out of their way, despite our warnings of the illegality of this action beforehand, to trample the rights of students, to trample the rights of children,” Bonta said. “They are fueled by animus.”

Also on Monday, parent groups backed by Republican state lawmakers were promoting a ballot initiative proposed for 2024 that would ask voters if they support a statewide policy to notify parents “when a child requests the school to treat them as transgender.” Other proposed initiatives, which have not yet garnered support to qualify for the ballot, include a measure regarding gender and sports in schools and medical care for transgender youths.

Chino Valley school board president Sonja Shaw at the state Capitol in Sacramento

Sonja Shaw, president of the Chino Valley Unified school board, rallied with parents at the state Capitol in Sacramento earlier this month

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Chino Valley Unified School Board President Sonja Shaw has been a vocal supporter of the policy and accused Bonta, along with fellow Democrats Gov. Gavin Newsom and Supt. of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, of being a “political cartel” that pushes “perversion” on children in schools because of LGBTQ+-inclusive policies.

Shaw called Monday’s actions “government overreach” and “aggressive” retaliation against a “common sense” measure meant to build trust between schools and parents.

“We will stand our ground and protect our children with all we can because we are not breaking the law,” Shaw told The Times. “Parents have a constitutional right in the upbringing of their children, period. Bring it.”

Critics of gender notification policies, including gay rights groups and leading California Democrats, say they amount to a dangerous Republican political power grab harmful to transgender and gender-nonconforming youths. Republicans, lacking power in the Democratic-controlled Legislature and top ranking offices, have turned their focus to school boards across the state to influence policy.

Newsom has also waded into the issue, taking on a Temecula school board that aimed to reject teaching materials because of their mention of slain gay rights leader and San Francisco politician Harvey Milk. The board is the latest to take up the gender notification policy.

More than 49,000 Californian youths 13 to 17 years old identify as transgender, 1.9% of the total age group, according to a report released last year by the Williams Institute, a think tank at the UCLA School of Law. Nationwide, 300,100 youths identified as transgender, 1.4% of the total age group.

Fewer than 1 in 3 transgender and nonbinary youths report being accepted by their families at home, according to a 2022 survey by the Trevor Project, a national LGBTQ+ nonprofit. More than half of transgender and nonbinary people 13 to 25 years old “seriously considered” suicide, and nearly 1 in 5 attempted it, according to the survey.

“The extremists who are so obsessed with trans kids — kids who are just trying to live their lives and be who they are — are pushing proposals that will result in more of these kids staying in the closet and committing suicide,” state Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) said in a tweet Monday. “Just leave these kids alone.”

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