Earlier this year, two teachers sued Escondido Union School District (EUSD) and the state education board over policies that forced them to keep parents in the dark when it comes to students’ intentions to “change” genders and socially “transition” at school. Recently, in a major victory for parents’ rights, a federal judge has blocked the district from enforcing these policies. (Read decision here)
This initial ruling gives a huge legal shot in the arm to school boards who have been threatened by Attorney General Rob Bonta for passing notification policies that forbid teachers and administrators from keeping secret the gender identity of students from parents.
According to EUSD’s policies, teachers are required to use students’ “preferred pronouns” or chosen names during the school day, but when speaking with parents, teachers are instructed to use the students’ biological pronouns and legal names.
Further, the district’s policy prohibits “revealing a student’s transgender status to individuals who do not have a legitimate need for the information, without the student’s consent.” The policy goes on to say that “parents or caretakers…do not have a legitimate need for the information,” according to the lawsuit.
Judge Roger T. Benitez raised concerns regarding the constitutionality of this policy and issued an injunction preventing the district from enforcing it until the lawsuit has undergone the judicial process.
“Parental involvement [is] essential to the healthy maturation of schoolchildren,” wrote Benitez. “The Escondido Union School District has adopted a policy without parent input that places a communication barrier between parents and teachers … For these parents, the new policy appears to undermine their own constitutional rights while it conflicts with knowledgeable medical opinion. An order enjoining the new district policy is in the better interests of the entire community, as well as the plaintiff teachers.”
Benitez also referenced transgender doctor Erica Anderson, who said that parents know their children best and are best able to determine if their child is grappling with gender dysphoria and how to handle it.
The judge went on to mention that children often make “impetuous and ill-considered life decisions,” and that under the Constitution, parents have the right to direct their child’s “education, health, and upbringing.” He stated it was “unlikely” that constitutional rights to privacy for children include a “right of confidentiality from their own parents.”
Finally, the order described the parental exclusion policies as a “trifecta of harm” and detailed the abuses it imposes on children, parents, and teachers.
Such policies harm “the child who needs parental guidance and possibly mental health intervention to determine if the incongruence is organic or whether it is the result of bullying, peer pressure, or a fleeting impulse. It harms the parents by depriving them of the long recognized Fourteenth Amendment right to care, guide, and make health care decisions for their children. And finally, it harms plaintiffs [teachers] who are compelled to violate the parent’s rights by forcing plaintiffs to conceal information they feel is critical for the welfare of their students — violating plaintiffs’ religious beliefs.”
The teachers are being represented by Thomas More Society attorneys. “This is an untenable situation to put teachers in,” explained Thomas More Society Special Counsel and Partner Paul M. Jonna. “Traditionally, educators have been viewed as highly significant players in a child’s development, partnering with parents—not supplanting them—in the incredibly important responsibility of raising children. The State of California and the Escondido Union School District have created an unconscionable scenario where it pits these two key influencers in a child’s life against one another by putting up an intentional curtain of dishonesty between them.”
Jonna also noted on X, previously known as Twitter, that because of this major federal court victory, California school districts are “now on notice that policies that require teachers to hide information from parents about their students’ gender identity violate the US Constitution.”
This case is far from over, but the parental exclusion policy will be halted while the lawsuit proceeds in court.
Educators should never be required to deceive parents about information pertaining to their children’s mental health. Not only is this a violation of parental rights, but it is also a violation of teachers’ freedom of speech and religion. Further, children should not be left on their own to navigate difficult issues such as gender dysphoria. This ruling is a major step in the right direction for parental rights and children’s safety in California.