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.

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

Parental Notification Of Child Gender Identity Change Bill Denied A Hearing In Assm. Committee

‘Assemblyman Muratsuchi is not doing his job by refusing to even hear this bill’

A bill to require schools to notify parents within three days if their child begins to identify as a gender not on their birth certificate or other records was held in the Assembly Education Committee on Monday, denying the bill a hearing  and leaving its future uncertain.

Assembly Bill 1314, co-authored by Assemblymen Bill Essayli (R-Corona) and James Gallagher (R-Yuba City) would provide that a parent or guardian has the right to be notified in writing within 3 days from the date any teacher, counselor, or employee of the school becomes aware that a pupil is identifying at school as a gender that does not align with the child’s sex on their birth certificate, other official records, or sex assigned at birth. Notification of a parent would also apply if the pupil in question is in sex-segregated school programs and activities, including athletic teams and competitions, or using facilities that do not align with the child’s sex on their birth certificate, other official records, or sex assigned at birth.

The Assemblymen wrote the bill due to recent lawsuits, including one in Chico, where school districts allegedly secretly transitioned a student without notifying their parents. AB 1314 would reaffirm parental rights in knowing what is happening with their children

“AB 1314 is simple and straightforward; if a child requests to be publicly addressed by a gender pronoun other than their sex at birth, or to use facilities of a different gender, a parent must be notified,” said Assemblyman Essayli last month. “Public policy should never presume a parent does not have the best interest for their child- however policies at schools across the state do just that. My bill will reset the appropriate relationship between educators and parents, and reaffirm that children are the domain of their parents, not the government.”

Assemblyman Gallagher added that “Parents should never be left out of their child’s education and development and this outrageous policy of allowing secret gender transitions at school must end.”

In addition, the Assemblymen pointed to studies that showed that LGBT young people with supportive parents were far less likely to experience depression, making the bill a mental health concern as well.

Introduced in February, AB 1314 proved to be a divisive bill, with many Democratic lawmakers saying that school discretion was needed since the bill would force school officials to out students, as well as notifying parents who might be against the transition, leading to possible repercussions. Despite the opposition, enough support was there for the bill to at least garner a hearing, with many parental groups in favor of the bill.

AB 1314 denied hearing in Assembly Education Committee

However, before AB 1314 could even be heard in the Assembly Education Committee on Monday, Committee Chairman Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance) refused to allow the bill to be heard. In a statement, Muratsuchi said that the bill would not be heard because it would be “bad policy” due to it outing students and that such conversations between students and parents should be private.

“All students deserve to be respected and supported for who they are, including at their schools,” said Assemblyman Muratsuchi. “This bill would require educators to ‘out’ a student to their parents, even when the student does not feel comfortable coming out, potentially forcing them into an unwelcoming or abusive home. As a parent, I believe that gender identity conversations between parents and their children should occur in a safe and private space.  As Chair of the Education Committee, I will not be setting AB 1314 for a hearing, not only because the bill is proposing bad policy, but also because a hearing would potentially provide a forum for increasingly hateful rhetoric targeting LGBTQ youth.”

The LGBT Caucus added that not all transgendered youth would have understanding parents and could be harmed by having their parents know, with the Caucus even alleging that even hearing the bill would amount to it being a “platform for anti-LGBTQ+ legislation that threatens the health and well-being of LGBTQ+ youth and empowers those who wish to cause them harm.”

“The California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus strongly supports Chair Muratsuchi’s decision to not set AB 1314 for a hearing,” the Caucus said in a statement on Monday. “We support the vision Assemblymembers Gallagher and Essayli have of a California where all parents are embracing and understanding of all LGBTQ+ youth in their journey to find their authentic selves. Sadly, AB 1314 ignores the reality that not all trans or non-binary youth have such loving and supportive families. The reality is that LGBTQ+ youth oftentimes face harassment, isolation, bullying, and even physical harm from their own families. Additionally, we know that LGBTQ+ youth are being negatively impacted by recent debates and laws around anti-LGBTQ+ policies and many have experienced victimization as a result. The California Legislature should not provide a platform for anti-LGBTQ+ legislation that threatens the health and well-being of LGBTQ+ youth and empowers those who wish to cause them harm.”

With AB 1314 now in limbo and a hearing now unlikely, many political observers noted that the Chairman refusing to even hear a bill due it it becoming a “forum” went largely against the spirit of the legislative process.

“Muratsuchi is not doing his job by refusing to even hear this bill,” explained Ellen Downs, a legal analyst in Washington who focuses on LGBT+ issues, to the Globe on Monday. “It’s not about it becoming a ‘forum’ or anything like that. You need to show the positives and negatives of a bill, then let Committee members decide to move it on or not.”

“Right now, there is a lot of state legislation and pending legislation regarding everything from transgender athletes and where they should play, to the Florida “Don’t Say Gay” bill. This one is far more benign, as all it does would have schools inform parents that their child is identifying as another gender. That’s it. There are some concerns of parental reaction, but that’s why you have the bill go through the legislative process. You add amendments, like maybe have it be a meeting with  between all three parties so that everyone’s reaction could be observed or something. You know, you make it more palatable.”

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe