SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — A judge on Wednesday halted a Southern California school district from requiring parents to be notified if their children change their gender identification or pronouns at school.
San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Thomas S. Garza ruled after California Attorney General Rob Bonta sued the Chino Valley Unified School District for adopting a policy requiring schools to tell parents when their children change their pronouns or use a bathroom of a gender other than the one listed on their official paperwork.
“Today’s decision by the San Bernardino Superior Court rightfully upholds the state rights of our LGBTQ+ students and protects kids from harm by immediately halting the board’s forced outing policy,” Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a statement.
Garza’s order halts the district’s policy while Bonta’s lawsuit continues. During a court hearing Wednesday, Garza raised questions about why the policy came up in the first place and how it protected students.
Full details of the order were not immediately available. The next court hearing on the issue was scheduled for Oct. 13.
Sonja Shaw, president of the Chino Valley Unified board of education, said she was disappointed by the ruling but hopes the case will bring attention to the issue. She said she and other parents feel state officials are limiting their ability to be involved in their children’s education on issues ranging from gender identification to curriculum.
“I don't understand why they are so gung ho on this issue, but everything else we have to inform the parents about," Shaw said. “There is obviously an issue and parents are concerned."
Chino Valley Unified, which serves 27,000 students about 35 miles (55 kilometers) east of Los Angeles, is one of several that requires parents to be informed if their children are transgender. The district passed the policy this summer, saying it supported the rights of parents to be involved in their children's care and education.
Two nearby districts have done the same, while at least two others in the state are bringing up similar measures this week.
Bonta argues the policy will forcibly out transgender students in violation of their privacy rights and threaten their well-being. Chino Valley contends the policy seeks to involve parents so they can provide support their children need.
During Wednesday's hearing, Delbert Tran, a deputy attorney general for California, said students were already being affected by the policy and feared being themselves at school, and that risking the safety of one transgender student would be too many. “This policy needs to be addressed now,” Tran told the court.
Anthony De Marco, an attorney for Chino Valley Unified, argued the policy would not affect students who were holding private conversations with teachers, but would involve parents in situations where students were making more public decisions such as changing their name or pronouns or using bathrooms or joining sports teams of a gender other than the one on their official paperwork. “We need those parents to be part of a successful transition,” De Marco said.
He also questioned whether elementary school students as young as 4 and 5 years old should be treated the same as high school teens involved in confidential counseling.
Earlier this year, the Spreckels Union School District in Monterey County settled a lawsuit filed on behalf of a mother who accused the school of “social transitioning” her then-11-year-old child in 2019 by allowing the student to use male pronouns and bathrooms at school without her consent. The child later re-identified as a girl, her mother has said. The district agreed to pay $100,000 but didn’t acknowledge wrongdoing, according to the Center for American Liberty, which represented the mother.
The national conversation over transgender rights has intensified as other states have sought to impose bans on gender-affirming care, bar transgender athletes from girls and women's sports, and require schools to "out" transgender and nonbinary students to their parents.
On Wednesday, the California State Assembly voted to declare every August as Transgender History Month, the first such declaration in the nation.
“The move comes as over 500 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in state Legislatures across the country” with most targeting “human and civil rights” of transgender people, an Assembly press announcement said.
In California, parental notification policies cropped up after Republican state lawmaker Bill Essayli proposed a statewide bill on the issue, but it never received a hearing in Sacramento. He then worked with school board members and the California Family Council to draft the policy that was voted on in Chino Valley.
Essayli said he hopes other school districts evaluating similar proposals will not be discouraged by the judge's decision.
Many of the conversations about transgender students and LGBTQ+ curriculum are taking place in communities that elected more conservative school board members after the pandemic drove many parents who were angry about closures to political action. The districts are increasingly at odds with Gov. Gavin Newsom and fellow Democrats who dominate the state’s political leadership.