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

Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Lifestyles

Different ruling in Temecula

The parent-notification policy approved by the Temecula Board of Education was essentially the same as the original version in Chino Valley. And Temecula also was sued — not by the state but by the local teachers union, individual teachers, students and parents.

But in this case, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Eric Keen did not stop the policy from going into effect. He concluded, at least preliminarily, that the rules applied equally to all students and were "gender neutral."

That lawsuit also alleges the board majority is hostile toward LGBTQ+ topics and students — citing the board's refusal to adopt state-approved curriculum for elementary schools that included a brief, optional passage in fourth grade about former San Francisco County Supervisor Harvey Milk, the state's first openly gay elected official.

A threatened fine by Gov. Gavin Newsom prompted the board to approve the curriculum, which had been recommended by teachers and administrators and was in line with state learning standards.

The issue is not over. The board voted to move this fourth-grade lesson on California civil rights movements to the end of the year, to give time to find an "age-appropriate curriculum" that could be substituted in place of "sexualized topics of instruction."

The lesson in question includes paragraphs noting that LGBTQ+ individuals and groups fought for civil rights, including the right to marry, but has no discussion of sex.

That Temecula teacher-led suit also seeks to overturn the district policy to restrict the teaching of critical race theory, which examines the extent to which racial inequality and racism have been systemically embedded in American institutions.

Critical race theory has been another culture-war flashpoint across the nation. The Temecula list of banned concepts embodies common conservative assertions, including that teachers use critical race theory to make white students feel guilty about being white. Many education experts consider this characterization of how teachers have been dealing with the topic of race to be inaccurate and incomplete.

Amanda Mangaser Savage, an attorney with the firm Public Counsel, which is pursuing the litigation against the Temecula school district, said she knows of no other California school system involved in litigation over critical race theory.

The lawyers who filed the case are preparing an appeal of the court's ruling.

More to come


In a lawsuit involving the Escondido school district in San Diego County, a judge has issued a preliminary ruling allowing two teachers to opt out of a district student privacy policy, giving the teachers the freedom to notify parents about a change in their child's gender identity. The case is ongoing.

In Chico, a parent lost a suit for damages over the school district not informing her about her child's gender-identity issues. The ruling is being appealed.

Book restrictions also could be headed toward litigation, especially in light of a new state law limiting bans and censorship, according to advocates on both sides. So far, Chino Valley may be the only California school district to approve a policy that allows parents to flag books that contain "sexually obscene content considered unsuitable for students," which would trigger the book's immediate removal until the issue has been decided through a formal public hearing.

Conservatives say their goal is to remove sexually explicit and profane materials from school libraries, especially at the lower grade levels. Opponents portray these efforts as part of a campaign to enforce conservative religious beliefs in schools and to make LGBTQ+ students and their stories invisible within the school community.

One legal strategy used by conservative activists has been to submit public records requests to school systems — to search out policies and practices to which they object.

A Glendale teacher faced a death threat after records obtained this way indicated that she may have shown a gay pride video to students.

Los Angeles Unified, the nation's second-largest school system, is the subject of a lawsuit for failing to turn over public records in the time frame required by law.

The group Center for American Liberty said that, starting in 2022, it requested documents related to critical race theory, transgender ideology and Marxism, as well as "certain financial records" related to COVID-relief funds "to give parents greater insight into what LAUSD school officials are teaching their children."

"Nearly two years later, the LAUSD has given us almost nothing," the organization stated. "This is illegal."

A school district spokesperson said the district would have no comment on this pending litigation.

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