Transgender rights vs. parent rights. California goes to court to settle school divide

Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Lifestyles

Supporters of a proposed November ballot initiative wanted the all-important title of their measure to reflect their beliefs, a name like "Protect Kids of California Act." But Attorney General Rob Bonta saw things differently when his office chose the name signature gatherers must use: "Restricts Rights of Transgender Youth."

Among its provisions, the initiative in question — which has not yet qualified for the ballot — would require schools to notify parents if a child changed gender identification unofficially or in schools records, such as a roll sheet.

With a May 28 deadline to submit signatures — and 25% of the way to the goal — initiative backers must use the state's description, which they say is hindering their effort. They have sued the state, claiming the initiative was "branded with a misleading, false, and prejudicial title" A hearing is set for April 19.

The litigation is one of several high-profile legal jousts in California's education culture wars over policies that have taken hold mostly in a few deep red, inland or rural areas. In addition to parent notification, activists and conservative school board members have approved restrictions on library books and curriculum. The Newsom administration and its allies — including the attorney general and the state education department — have pushed back aggressively. Now, opposing sides are facing off in courtrooms with broad implications for state and local school policies.

"There are long-standing questions about what's the role of the school versus what's the role of the parents, and that's true with regard to parent notification but it's also true with regard to curriculum like sex education, for instance, or talking about LGBT issues in the classroom," said Morgan Polikoff, a professor at USC's Rossier School of Education.

In addition to the court case over the ballot name, partisans have taken each other to court over locally approved parental notification policies — or the lack of them.


Supporters believe parents have a fundamental right to be involved in all aspects of their children's lives, especially on matters as consequential as gender identification. More broadly, proponents hope to energize a Republican and conservative religious voting base while attracting centrist voters, especially parents, for electoral wins down the road.

Democratic officials contend that blanket parental notification policies violate student privacy and civil rights enshrined in state law and the education code and that the near universal outing of transgender students to parents would put some children at serious risk.

The Chino Valley and Temecula school districts, both led by conservative boards, are being sued to rescind their parent-notification policies. In Escondido and Chico, however, it's conservatives who have filed the litigation against state and local policies they consider too liberal and even immoral — casting themselves as protectors of the long-term interests of students they see as at risk of being drawn into a transgender lifestyle.

Other Southern California school districts where such issues are playing out have included Orange Unified and Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified in Orange County and Murrieta Valley Unified in Riverside County. A similar scenario has unfolded in Rocklin Unified and Dry Creek Joint Elementary, north of Sacramento, and the Anderson Union High School District in Northern California.


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