Two Escondido Teachers Sue School District, State Leaders Over Gender Identity Privacy Policy

State-level and district guidance advise schools not to disclose to parents if students are transgender without the student’s consent, citing safety concerns. A lawsuit by two Rincon Middle school teachers argues parents deserve to know.

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Two Escondido middle school teachers have sued their own school district and the California Board of Education over policies designed to ensure transgender students’ right to privacy.

Rincon Middle School teachers Elizabeth Mirabelli and Lori Ann West believe they should be able to tell parents about their child’s transgender identity, according to the lawsuit.

Escondido Union School District policy and California education guidelines state that transgender students’ gender identities must be kept private, including from parents, unless the students give consent. State officials say that’s in order to protect students from potential abuse.

Mirabelli, who is Catholic, and West, who is Christian, argue that this forces them to go against their religious beliefs, violating their First Amendment religious and free speech rights.

“The policy also forces Elizabeth and others like her to violate faith,” said Paul Jonna, the plaintiffs’ attorney, in an interview. “She has constitutional rights that are being violated by this policy, which is forcing teachers to lie and participate in deception.”

Federal and state authorities prohibit discrimination in schools based on gender identity. Since 2013 California law has required that schools allow students to participate in school sex-segregated programs and facilities consistent with their gender identity regardless of their sex assigned at birth.

California education officials say anti-discrimination laws include a right to privacy. They warn schools that disclosing the fact that a student is transgender may violate California’s anti-discrimination law by making a student more vulnerable to harassment.

Family rejection has been associated with dangerous outcomes for transgender people, including domestic violence and heightened risk of homelessness, suicidal attempts and sex work, according to results from the latest U.S. Transgender Survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality in 2015.

“Revealing a student’s gender identity or expression to others may compromise the student’s safety. Thus, preserving a student’s privacy is of the utmost importance,” the state education department says on its website.

The California School Boards Association, which provides legal advice to school districts and charter schools, says schools must respect students’ wishes regarding disclosure of their gender status.

“(Local education agencies) are required to, with rare exceptions, respect the limitations that a student places on the disclosure of the student’s transgender status and consider the student’s privacy rights and safety associated with this information, including not sharing that information with the student’s parents except with the student’s authorization,” its guidance says.

Escondido Union School District policy aligns with that guidance, holding that teachers and staff are not allowed to disclose a student’s transgender identity to anyone else, including their parents, without the student’s written consent, unless the disclosure is otherwise required by law or to protect the student’s physical or mental well-being.

“The Escondido Union School District is committed to providing a safe and positive environment that enables our students to learn and actualize their unlimited potential and that empowers our teachers to excel as educators,” superintendent Luis Rankins-Ibarra said in a statement Friday. “As part of that commitment to student learning, the district observes all federal and state laws.”

The two teachers’ lawsuit, filed in federal court Thursday, names as defendants the members of the Escondido Union school board and Escondido administrators including Rankins-Ibarra, along with Tony Thurmond, the state schools superintendent, and the members of the state Board of Education.

The state education department said it does not comment on pending litigation.

Mirabelli and West say in their lawsuit that they do not believe a gender spectrum exists and that people are innately and permanently either male or female, based on God’s design. They believe that gender dysphoria and gender identity issues should not be left to children to decide on their own.

The lawsuit argues that by using students’ preferred names and pronouns, school staff are reinforcing what they call “the whims of gender-confused children — while denying parents any say.”

“Parents should not be left out of their child’s school life. What parent would want that?” Mirabelli said in an interview.

Jonna, who is part of the Rancho Santa Fe-based law firm LiMandri & Jonna LLP, has filed multiple lawsuits in the last two years regarding California school policies as special counsel for the Thomas More Society, a Chicago-based nonprofit that has long fought for abortion restrictions.

In 2021 LiMandri & Jonna sued San Diego Unified on behalf of a Christian student at Scripps Ranch High School, accusing the district of religious discrimination because its student COVID-19 vaccine mandate did not allow for personal belief exemptions. That case effectively ended after the student vaccine mandate was defeated by another lawsuit filed by parents affiliated with Let Them Breathe.

Click here to read the full article in the SD Union Tribune

Comments

  1. Tracker1 says

    Good for them! Hope others gain the strength to speak up. However, the parents can be every bit as damaging to their children, if not much more so than anything else. They need to be held more accountable, not dumping it on others.

  2. Notice the word “guidelines”, NOT LAW.

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