California Attorney General challenges school district’s policy on gender identity notification

California Attorney General Rob Bonta has filed a lawsuit against Chino Valley Unified School District over its policy that requires schools to inform parents if their children change their gender identity or pronouns. The lawsuit claims that the policy violates the civil rights and privacy of transgender and gender-nonconforming students and puts them at risk of harm.

The policy and its implications

The Chino Valley Unified School District, which serves over 26,000 students in Southern California, adopted a policy in July 2023 that mandates schools to notify parents within three days if staff members become aware that a student is requesting to be identified or treated as a gender different from their biological sex or the gender listed on their birth certificate. The policy applies to student requests regarding names, pronouns, bathrooms, and sports preferences.

According to the lawsuit, the policy forcibly outs transgender students and threatens their well-being by exposing them to potential emotional, physical, and psychological harm from non-affirming or unaccepting parents or guardians. The lawsuit also alleges that the policy discriminates against transgender students and violates the state constitution’s guarantee of equal protection for all. The lawsuit seeks an immediate injunction to stop the policy from being implemented.

The lawsuit cites the testimony of several transgender and gender-nonconforming students who expressed fear and anxiety about the policy. One student said they would have to “walk back” their gender identity or face being kicked out of their home. Another student said they would have to hide their true self from their parents and school staff. A third student said they would have to choose between being themselves or being safe.

California Attorney General challenges school district’s policy on gender identity notification

The legal arguments

The lawsuit argues that the policy infringes on the students’ right to privacy, which is protected by both the state and federal constitutions. The lawsuit states that the right to privacy includes the right to control one’s personal information, especially information that is sensitive, intimate, or potentially stigmatizing. The lawsuit contends that the policy violates this right by forcing students to disclose their gender identity to their parents without their consent.

The lawsuit also argues that the policy violates the state’s civil rights laws, which prohibit discrimination based on sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, and other protected characteristics in education. The lawsuit claims that the policy discriminates against transgender students by treating them differently from other students and denying them equal access to educational opportunities and benefits. The lawsuit asserts that the policy also creates a hostile and unsafe environment for transgender students by exposing them to harassment, bullying, and violence.

The lawsuit further argues that the policy contradicts the state’s education laws, which require schools to respect and accommodate the gender identity and expression of students. The lawsuit cites several statutes and regulations that mandate schools to use the name and pronouns preferred by students, allow students to use facilities and participate in activities consistent with their gender identity, and provide support and resources for transgender students. The lawsuit claims that the policy undermines these laws by requiring schools to disregard the students’ wishes and notify their parents of their gender identity.

The response from the school district

The Chino Valley Unified School District has defended its policy as a way of protecting parental rights and ensuring parental involvement in their children’s education. The district’s board president, Sonja Shaw, said that the state officials have repeatedly tried to “shut parents out of their children’s lives” and that the district will “stand our ground and protect our children with all we can.”

The district’s spokesperson, Andi Johnston, said that transgender students are protected by another policy that requires schools to notify social services or law enforcement if a student believes they could be in danger, in which case parents would not be alerted. Johnston also said that the district has not received any complaints from parents or students about the notification policy.

The broader context

The lawsuit is part of a larger clash between California and some of its school districts over LGBTQ+ issues in education. Several other districts in Southern California have adopted or considered similar policies on parental notification of gender identity changes, sparking heated debates at local school board meetings. Some districts have also faced protests from parents and activists who oppose LGBTQ+ inclusive textbooks and curricula.

Meanwhile, California has been one of the most progressive states in supporting LGBTQ+ rights and protections, especially for transgender youth. Governor Gavin Newsom has signed several bills into law that ban discrimination based on gender identity and expression in various settings, including health care, foster care, corrections, and sports. Attorney General Rob Bonta has also joined other states in challenging anti-transgender laws enacted in other parts of the country.

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