California Attorney General Rob Bonta has defied a court order by instructing school districts to implement policies enabling them to conceal a student’s self-selected gender “identity” from parents or legal guardians, attorneys say. This move comes despite a federal judge’s decision in a school district case in Escondido stating that gender secrecy policies “likely violate” the U.S. Constitution.
Bonta sent a letter to school districts across California urging them to continue to implement various secrecy policies, saying the federal ruling had “no impact” on the rest of the state. He justified his direction by referring to a state court’s temporary restraining order that halted Chino Valley Unified School District’s practice of informing parents if their children identify as transgender. A Preliminary Injunction hearing for that case is scheduled on October 13.
In doing so, Bonta disregarded a federal court’s preliminary injunction invalidating secretive transgender policing, based on the U.S. Constitution.
Paul Jonna, a partner at LiMandri and Jonna LLP and special counsel to the Thomas More Society, issued an open letter on Wednesday, criticizing Bonta for ignoring the law. Jonna represents the two Escondido teachers who sued their district in federal court for forcing them to lie to parents about their children’s gender identity.
“It is deeply concerning, but unfortunately unsurprising, that the State Attorney General issued a press release and ‘guidance’ in defiance of a Federal Court order—directing school districts and state officials to act in a manner that a Federal Court determined likely violates the U.S. Constitution. The State’s newly issued guidance exposes the State, School Districts, and public school employees to massive liability in the form of attorneys’ fees and damages,” Jonna said.
“Californians should be deeply troubled by the fact that this issue—hiding young children’s gender identity and social transition at school—is such a high priority for the State. There is no justification for Attorney General Bonta burning millions of taxpayer dollars in litigation and other resources enforcing ‘guidance’ that he now knows, and should have always known, is both unconstitutional and harmful to children.”
Further, Judge Roger T. Benitez in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California issued a preliminary injunction preventing the Escondido Union School District from punishing teachers Elizabeth Mirabelli and Lori Ann West if they chose to inform parents about a child’s transgender “identity.”
The policy states that teachers and school staff must acknowledge a student’s professed transgender identity and keep it confidential from parents or guardians unless the student agrees to inform them.
Judge Benitez determined that Mirabelli and West have a strong likelihood of successfully arguing that the school district violated their First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion. The judge cited nine Supreme Court decisions declaring that “parents have a right, grounded in the Constitution, to direct the education, health, and upbringing, and to maintain the well-being of their children.”
However, in his letter issued on Tuesday, Bonta asserted that policies mandating teacher-parent notifications contravene the California Constitution’s equal protection provision, state laws prohibiting discrimination, and students’ privacy rights protected by the California Constitution.
Jonna pushed back, saying, “The court’s analysis in the Mirabelli opinion focuses on the First Amendment and explains under the 14th Amendment parental rights are being violated by this policy. If this policy in our case violates the U.S. Constitution, 14th Amendment, parental rights, that would apply anywhere in the state.”
AG Bonta has no right to ignore the federal court’s decision to protect parental rights, and school boards around the state should ignore his advice and pass a parent notification policy like the one approved by Chino Valley Unified School District. If they don’t, parents and teachers will have every right to sue them for violating federal law.