A promising revolt has begun in California. Seven school districts there have recently passed parental-notification policies. And not a moment too soon. As many parents are discovering, the local school board is the one place where they can effect positive change in their children’s public schools—if, that is, the state doesn’t find a way to stop them.
Notification policies require that school officials inform parents in a timely fashion about certain occurrences in their children’s lives. These typically include a child bullying someone or being bullied, giving evidence of suicidal ideation, or identifying with a nonbiological gender. It is this last point upon which a storm of reaction has ensued by state officials. In July, during policy deliberations by the Chino Valley Unified School District (CVUSD), the first of the seven districts to pass such measures, Tony Thurmond, California’s superintendent of schools, made a personal appearance to warn the board against its passage. Fortunately, and under the leadership of board president Sonja Shaw, the board passed the policy by a vote of four to one. A month later, California Attorney General Rob Bonta filed an action against CVUSD in Superior Court for declaratory and injunctive relief. Additional lawsuits are all but certain. In the meantime, vitriol and death threats have been leveled against an embattled school board member for exercising what was once regarded as common sense.
What’s behind California’s hostility to parents being apprised of their children’s gender identity? It stems from two central presumptions.
The first is that nonbinary gender identification is an essential good that must be encouraged. As stated on California’s Department of Education’s Health website, “gender and sexuality are a continuum, they are often fluid, and they do not fit neatly into categories.” This belief is official state orthodoxy with roots that go back more than 20 years—much further than most people realize. In 2000, California’s Education Code redefined gender to include “a person’s gender identity and gender related appearance and behavior whether or not stereotypically associated with the person’s assigned sex at birth” (AB-537). Seven years later, schools were required to teach that gender is a choice and that acting otherwise is a form of legal discrimination (SB-777). In 2013, the passage of AB-1266 required that schools open their bathrooms and changing facilities to students who identify with the opposite sex. Two years after that, the Orwellian-sounding California Healthy Youth Act (AB-329) mandated that subjective gender identification be advanced in the public schools, starting in middle school. The Menstrual Equity Act (AB-367) became law in 2021, requiring that free menstrual products be provided in what used to be boy’s bathrooms. And last year, State Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) pushed through SB-107, making California the first “gender affirming care” sanctuary state.
Currently sitting on Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk is a quartet of bills that will force the state’s teachers to acquire LGBTQ “cultural competency” (AB-5), allow a “professional person” (broadly defined) to decide if parents should be informed about mental-health treatment or counseling being provided to their children (AB-665), limit school boards from removing overtly sexualized narratives from school libraries (AB-1078), and characterize parents’ refusal to support their kid’s subjective gender identities as a form of “child abuse” (AB-957). Unless Newsom vetoes them, these bills will all become law.
The second presumption is that, on matters concerning sex and gender, the state holds authority over a child’s life, not parents. The aforementioned SB-107 and the quartet of bills that will soon take effect in California make this plain. During debate on the Orange Unified School District’s proposed parental notification policy, opposing board member Kris Erickson stated that “parents do have expansive rights and they should; but they don’t own their children . . . There are certain rules that still apply, and children still have the rights, and we have a duty to protect their health, welfare, and their education.” Maybe so. But aiding and abetting a child’s sexual transition is something entirely different. In California, however, the state presumes to decide what’s in that child’s best interest. Any objection must be motivated by animus. That’s Bonta’s position. As stated in the attorney general’s complaint against the Chino Valley School District, “the Board’s plain motivations in adopting [the parent notification] Policy 5020.1 were to create and harbor animosity, discrimination, and prejudice towards these transgender and gender nonconforming students, without any compelling reason to do so.”
Rasmussen reports that a clear majority of parents favor notification policies. Still, school districts have needed courage to pass them. Why? Because California is a tough legal neighborhood for anyone daring to resist sex and gender ideology in the schools. Aside from the attorney general’s action against CVUSD, last July, Eastern District Judge John A. Mendez granted a motion to dismiss with prejudice a lawsuit filed by a parent, Aurora Regino, against the Chico Unified School District Superintendent for secretly facilitating the social gender-transitioning of her then elementary-school-aged daughter. The court never denied that such transitioning was occurring, only that Regino’s rights as a parent did “not extend to the circumstances of the instant case,” and that the state’s action of keeping her in the dark does not “shock the conscience.” In Fields v. Palmdale School District (9th Cir. 2005), a case that the ACLU often references to woke school officials facing irate parents, the court ruled: “parents are possessed of no constitutional right to prevent the public schools from providing information on that subject [sex] to their students in any forum or manner they select.”
Faced with such obstacles, one can hope that courage becomes contagious and that more school districts will mount a defense against what Elon Musk has aptly called a “mind virus.” And there is some good news. On September 14, U.S. District Judge, Roger T. Benitez, issued a preliminary injunction, coupled with a scathing legal rebuke, against school officials in Escondido who ordered teachers to hide a child’s gender dysphoria from parents. The decision will be challenged, with the ultimate legal determination awaiting a ruling from the nation’s highest court. Meanwhile, those opposed to parental notification policies should ask themselves what new insight has arisen—scientific, moral, or spiritual—to justify telling children that they were born in the wrong body, and, further, what would warrant taking such a discussion out of the hands of parents. Absent credible answers, state officials should stay out of the gender-transition business.
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