In a case that has sparked intense debate surrounding parental rights, student privacy, and whether public schools can keep secrets from parents, the Superior Court of California, County of San Bernardino, is set to become the stage for a legal showdown this Thursday, October 19. Judge Michael Sachs will preside over oral arguments in the case of California v. Chino Valley Unified School District (CVUSD), a lawsuit filed by California Attorney General Rob Bonta, challenging the district’s recently implemented parental notification policy.
The policy in question, implemented by the CVUSD, requires school administrators to inform parents if their children express a desire to be referred to by a name or pronouns that differ from those on official records. Additionally, parents are to be notified if their children seek to enroll in programs or use facilities that differ from the sex listed on official records. The policy, aimed at ensuring parental involvement in significant decisions impacting a child’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being, has received rebukes from state officials, and LGBTQ activists and legislators.
On August 28, 2023, Attorney General Rob Bonta filed a lawsuit seeking to prevent the CVUSD from enforcing the policy. Bonta gained a momentary advantage on September 6 when Judge Thomas Garza granted the Attorney General’s motion for a temporary restraining order, effectively putting the CVUSD parental notification policy on hold until the matter could be considered fully. But then the notification policy got a huge legal shot in the arm on September 14 when a federal court judge in San Diego ruled in favor of two public teachers in Escondido who sued their school district over a policy requiring them to lie to parents about the gender identity of their students.
Bonta claims the policy “endangers” kids and violates California’s Equal Protection Clause, which says everyone is to be treated equally; California’s Education and Government Code which ensures equal rights and opportunities for all children regardless of gender identity; and California’s constitutional right to privacy.
Stepping into the arena on September 11, 2023, the Liberty Justice Center, represented by Senior Counsel Emily Rae, took up the defense of the Chino Valley Unified School District. The Liberty Justice Center’s case filings, available to the public, outline the arguments and legal strategy employed to defend the school district’s policy.
“The Chino Valley Unified School District was right to implement a policy ensuring parents have access to information that impacts their children’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being,” said LJC Senior Counsel Emily Rae. “We look forward to defending the propriety of this policy in court.”
Despite the Attorney General’s lawsuit against Chino Valley, multiple other districts are considering or have implemented similar parental notification policies.
“I can’t believe we’re at a point in America where authoritarians in power are fighting this hard to keep sexual secrets about children from their own parents,” said LJC Board Member Corey DeAngelis. “They are now using the heavy hand of the state to subvert local control and try to strip away the most fundamental parental rights. I’m proud of the parents in Chino Valley Unified who are fighting back for their constitutional right to direct the upbringing of their children. I’m proud to be a board member at Liberty Justice Center, fighting alongside them. We will win this war the authoritarians are waging on parents.”
Bonta claims these notification policies violate the privacy rights children supposedly have from their own parents. “We’re in court challenging Chino Valley Unified’s forced outing policy for wrongfully and unconstitutionally discriminating against and violating the privacy rights of LGBTQ+ students,” Bonta said in a statement. “The forced outing policy wrongfully endangers the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of non-conforming students who lack an accepting environment in the classroom and at home.”
But the president of the Liberty Justice Center, Jacob Huebert, disputes this characterization. “That’s nonsense,” Huebert wrote in an Orange County Register editorial. “Gender transitions at school are public, not private. When a child starts using a different name, different pronouns, and different restrooms at school, everyone there sees it. So Bonta isn’t protecting anyone’s ‘privacy.’ He’s just hiding information from parents.”
“Besides, the idea that minor children have a right to privacy against their guardian parents is absurd.” he continued. “Parents oversee all facets of their children’s lives, and children normally have only as much privacy as their parents give them. That’s as it should be–and always has been–because parents need to know what their children are doing so they can fulfill their responsibility to direct their children’s upbringing.”
Federal Judge Roger T. Benitez, made similar arguments in the Escondido case, stating parents have a constitutional right to direct their child’s, education, health, and upbringing,” calling the district’s gender identity secrecy policy a “trifecta of harm.”
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,” he wrote. “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.”
Upcoming Court Hearing:
With the state court hearing just days away, the anticipation is palpable. On October 19, at 10:00 AM PDT, Emily Rae will present oral arguments in defense of the Chino Valley Unified School District, aiming to sway Judge Michael Sachs in favor of parental rights.
The outcome of this case is poised to set a precedent, not only for Chino Valley but for school districts across California considering implementing similar notification policies. But even if the state court rules against Chino Valley, it is the federal courts that will have the final say.
In a letter urging school board members to pass a notification policy, Constitutional Attorney and President of the National Center for Law and Policy Dean Broyles explained why school districts have more to fear from a federal judge than they do from AG Bonta.
“Your greatest jeopardy and risk actually lie in doing nothing,” Broyles wrote. “Indeed, the likelihood that you will be sued by harmed parents, harmed students, and harmed teachers if you refuse to honor these rights safeguarded by the U.S. Constitution is virtually certain and will ultimately cost your district a lot more money than anything paper-tiger AG Bonta can legitimately do to your district.”
To learn more about the Parent Notification Policy introduced by CVUSD, go to caparentalrights.com