Christian educators Elizabeth Mirabelli and Lori Ann West are taking a stand for children’s safety, parental rights, religious liberty, and freedom of speech in a lawsuit that now targets Governor Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Rob Bonta. The federal lawsuit alleges that the teachers were compelled to deceive parents about their students’ gender dysphoria, because of a policy mandated on school districts under the leadership of these state politicians. The inclusion of Newsom and Bonta in the case came at the behest of the same federal judge who had imposed a temporary freeze on the secrecy policy last fall.
“Governor Newsom and Attorney General Bonta need to be accountable for threatening teachers and districts that won’t deceive parents,” said Greg Burt, Vice President of the California Family Council. “God Bless the two teachers who valiantly defied this unconstitutional, immoral policy, guided by their conscience and Christian faith.”
The case, Mirabelli, et al. v. Olson, et al., was originally filed by attorneys from the Thomas More Society last year in the United States District Court for the Southern District of California, but only against Escondido and state education officials. These attorneys said the federal court’s September preliminary injunction halting the secrecy policy already covered any school district with such a policy, but they believe adding Newsom and Bonta as defendants will help make sure both are held fully accountable.
“These previously named defendants are all operating under the supervision and control of the Governor, who has ultimate responsibility for overseeing the state’s education system,” said Thomas More Society attorney Paul Jonna. “The Escondido Union School District has asserted that it is compelled by the state to adopt and enforce parental exclusion policies in which California dictates the deception requiring teachers to lie to parents about their students. That leads to the conclusion that the state, and therefore, the Governor is the driving force behind the violation of Elizabeth Mirabelli and Lori Ann West’s constitutional rights.”
On September 14, 2023, Judge Roger Benitez granted a preliminary injunction in support of the teachers, halting the enforcement of a policy by the school district and the state that required teachers to withhold information from parents regarding their students’ gender identity. This judicial order also rejected a dismissal request from the state of California and the school district. Judge Benitez commented that the policy of gender confidentiality likely violates the U.S. Constitution, labelled it “a trifecta of harm,” heaping abuses on children, parents, and teachers.
Shortly after, Attorney General Rob Bonta sent misleading instructions to superintendents and education board members across school districts through a letter titled “Guidance Regarding Forced Disclosure Policies Concerning Gender Identity.” Jonna condemned the letter, noting that it directly opposed Judge Benitez’s federal court ruling by advising schools to continue concealing students’ chosen gender identities from their parents or guardians.
On January 10, 2024, Bonta issued a “legal alert” reiterating his stance in the letter, insisting that adhering to “outdated social stereotypes” by informing parents about their child’s gender discussions at school was misguided. He argued that such disclosures without the student’s explicit consent would breach the school districts’ responsibility to protect the well-being of the students.
“The California Department of Education tried to have it both ways,” stated Jonna, “on the one hand, they tried to tell the court that their ‘guidance’ on gender identity policies is not mandatory, even though they used words like ‘must’ and ‘required.’ Meanwhile, elsewhere in California, they’re working hand-in-hand with the California Attorney General enforcing this supposedly non-binding ‘guidance’ with litigation and by withholding millions of dollars of state education funds. Fortunately, the court saw through this last September—and the injunction we obtained binds all of the applicable state actors. But because the California AG and the Governor are so connected to this fight, we’re naming them as defendants to hold them fully accountable as well.”
Last month, the teachers appealed to the court to find the school district and related parties in contempt for not allowing them to return to their positions after they had been placed on administrative leave against their wishes. Following a stern admonition from the court, the district permitted Mirabelli and West to resume teaching. West returned to her classroom on January 16th.