UNITED STATES NEWS

Judge blocks California school district policy to notify parents if their child changes pronouns

Oct 19, 2023, 3:52 PM

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Parts of a controversial Southern California school district policy that require school staff to tell parents if their child asks to change their gender identification will remain halted after a judge granted a preliminary injunction Thursday to block them until a final decision is made in the case.

The ruling by San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Michael A. Sachs came after another judge temporarily halted the policy in September. California Attorney General Rob Bonta, who filed a lawsuit against the Chino Valley Unified School District in August, said the policy is harmful to transgender and gender-nonconforming students.

“This case is about a policy that is discriminatory,” Delbert Tran, a deputy attorney general representing the state, said at the hearing.

The Chino Valley school board approved the policy over the summer to require school staff — including principals, counselors and teachers — to notify parents in writing within three days of the school finding out their child asks to be identified as a gender different from what is listed on official records. The policy also requires staff to tell parents if their child begins using bathrooms designated for a different gender.

Sachs denied on Thursday the state’s request to block another part of the policy requiring school staff to notify parents if their child asks for information in their student records to be changed.

Emily Rae, a lawyer representing the school district, said at the hearing that parents have the right to know if their child asks to identify as a different gender so that they can better support the child’s needs.

“Chino Valley implemented this policy because it values the role that parents play in the educational process and understands that giving parents access to important information about their children is necessary,” Rae said.

Several other school districts near Chino Valley, which serves roughly 27,000 students, and in other parts of the state have debated or adopted similar policies. Last month, a federal judge blocked a policy at the Escondido Union School District in Southern California that requires staff to refrain from notifying parents if their child identifies as transgender or gender-nonconforming unless the student gives them permission.

School district policies requiring school staff to notify parents of their child’s gender identification change bubbled up after a bill by Republican Assemblymember Bill Essayli, which would have implemented the policy statewide, failed to receive a hearing in the Legislature this year. Essayli then worked with school board members and the California Family Council to help draft the policy that was voted on at Chino Valley.

The lawsuit is part of an ongoing battle between California officials and some local school districts over the rights of parents and LGBTQ+ students. In July, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said at a meeting on the Chino Valley policy that it could pose a risk to students who live in unsafe homes.

In August, the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus planned to announce a bill to somehow combat the policies, but lawmakers decided to hold off for the year. Assemblymember Chris Ward, a Democrat and vice chair of the caucus, said Monday that the outcome of the lawsuit against Chino Valley “will inform the range of possibilities for what we should or shouldn’t do with regard to legislation.”

This all comes amid debates across the country over transgender rights as other states have sought to impose bans on gender-affirming care, bar trans athletes from girls and women’s sports, and require schools to out trans and nonbinary students to their parents. In Wisconsin, a judge earlier this month blocked a school district’s policy allowing students to change their names and pronouns without permission from parents.

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Sophie Austin is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Austin on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter: @sophieadanna

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Judge blocks California school district policy to notify parents if their child changes pronouns