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Despite Federal Ruling, State Threatens Rocklin Schools Over Parent Notification Policy

Despite a federal court ruling against a southern California school district’s gender secrecy policy, the California Department of Education (CDE) ruled last week against the Rocklin Unified School District (RUSD) for its parent notification policy on gender. The CDE investigation report claimed Rocklin’s newly enacted rule, requiring parents to be notified if their child starts publicly identifying as another gender, violated education codes related to discrimination and student privacy. 

If the district doesn’t take corrective action, the CDE will take action under Cal. Code Regs., tit. 5 § 4670, which permits “the withholding of all or part of the local agency’s relevant state or federal support…” 

Yet a federal judge already ruled against the CDE lawyers’ discrimination and student privacy arguments last September when they tried to convince the court that forcing teachers in a San Diego County school district to lie to parents was legal. In that case, Mirabelli v. Olson, a federal court issued a groundbreaking 36-page order enjoining the Escondido Union School District and CDE officials from enforcing gender secrecy policies for the “trifecta of harm” it causes to teachers, children, and their parents. 

The Rocklin Unified School Board members, who were not contacted or asked any questions as part of the CDE investigation, have refused to comply with the CDE order, voting 4-1 to officially appeal the decision. 

The attorney defending the teachers in the Mirabelli case, Thomas More Society Special Counsel Paul M. Jonna, finds the CDE behavior towards Rocklin school deeply concerning, and contrary to what CDE attorneys told the federal court in the Escondido School District case. 

“In Mirabelli v. Olson, the CDE officials argued at the preliminary injunction hearing that they were not proper parties because, as their attorney said, ‘the plaintiffs have not pointed to one instance where there’s been a loss of funding from a local school district or there’s any kind of repercussions from not following these FAQ’s,’” Jonna said. “That argument failed then, and now the CDE apparently feels free to exercise that authority. But we intend to hold the CDE and other state officials fully accountable for their attempts to blatantly disregard the rationale and reasoning of the federal court’s Preliminary Injunction order in Mirabelli v. Olson.

Also raising concerns about the CDE decision is Dean Broyles, president of the National Center for Law & Policy. He represents another teacher in the Escondido Union School District who refused to follow the gender secrecy policy. Broyles recently sought and obtained a religious accommodation for his client after the Mirabelli ruling. This means the school district will no longer require this teacher to use a student’s preferred pronouns, nor keep secret a student’s gender identity from parents.

“The California Department of Education is far out on a legal limb that is being rapidly sawed off,” Broyles said. He criticized State Superintendent Tony Thurmond for conducting what he called a “sham secret ‘investigation'” of RUSD and threatening to defund the district. He argued that the RUSD’s policy aligns with the federal court’s findings in Mirabelli, and “in spite of Attorney General Rob Bonta’s specious allegations of discrimination, privacy, and equal protection, parental notification is actually mandated by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, the Fourteenth Amendment and well-established U.S. Supreme Court precedent.” 

Bonta used those arguments in state court against Chino Valley Unified School District (CVUSD), the first district in California to implement a parent notification policy related to the gender identity of students. The state judge temporarily put part of that policy on hold last year, but the parties are due back in court later this week. 

CVUSD’s attorney Emily Rae, Senior Counsel at the Liberty Justice Center, also accused Superintendent Thurmond of employing “political intimidation tactics” against California parents and school districts, like Rocklin Unified, that advocate for the right to be informed about their children’s school lives. “Rocklin School District’s policy comports with California law,” Rae asserted, criticizing the CDE’s attempts to “keep parents in the dark” as a violation of familial rights and an affront to the principles of transparency and parental involvement in education.

“Superintendent Thurmond’s letter is one of many tactics meant to undermine the supermajority of Californians who agree that parents have an inherent right to direct the upbringing and education of their children,” Rae said. “Thurmond is attempting to supplant the role of parents in raising their own children and replace them with the government.”

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