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Calif. AG sues school district over gender change parental notification requirement

California Attorney General Rob Bonta, at lectern and flanked by staff in a file photo from Sept. 14, 2022. On Aug. 28, 2023 Bonta announced that the state is bringing suit to stop a San Bernardino school district from carrying out a policy of informing parents when their child requests to change their gender and pronouns. (OSV News photo/Paresh Dave, Reuters)

(OSV News) — California Attorney General Rob Bonta filed a lawsuit against a school district in the state Aug. 28, asking a judge to block that district’s requirement that parents be notified if their child seeks to change their pronouns or gender identity at school.

The Chino Valley Unified School District Board of Education’s policy, adopted in July, requires schools to inform parents — with some exceptions — if a student requests to use a name or pronoun that differs from that on their birth certificate or other official records, or if a student requests to use facilities or participates in athletic programs opposite their biological sex. That notification does not require the student’s permission, Bonta’s office said.

Supporters of such parental notification policies argue that parents have the right to know about changes in their child’s life if they take place in the classroom. Opponents argue that students who identify as transgender have a right to privacy and such notification policies force schools to “out” children, or reveal their sexuality or self-professed gender identity, including those who may have a difficult home life.

Bonta’s office argued the Chino Valley Unified policy violates the California Constitution and could cause harm to students experiencing gender dysphoria, an internal conflict where a person feels their biological sex does not match the gender they identify with.

“Every student has the right to learn and thrive in a school environment that promotes safety, privacy, and inclusivity — regardless of their gender identity,” Bonta said in a statement.

Bonta said the state will challenge “Chino Valley Unified’s forced outing policy for wrongfully and unconstitutionally discriminating against and violating the privacy rights of LGBTQ+ students.”

“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,” he said. “Our message to Chino Valley Unified and all school districts in California is loud and clear: We will never stop fighting for the civil rights of LGBTQ+ students.”

Chino Valley Unified’s policy was approved by a 4-1 vote in July, amid what local media called “a decidedly mixed response” from those in attendance at that meeting.

A spokesperson for Chino Valley Unified School District told OSV News in an Aug. 29 email that “the district was not notified of yesterday’s lawsuit filing until after media personnel began to report on the situation.”

The spokesperson said that prior to the attorney general’s lawsuit the school district “had been working with the attorney general’s office in “complete transparency” providing requested documents and records.

“While it has been reported that the Parent Notification Policy and Chino Valley Unified School District wrongfully endanger the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of non-conforming students, past and current practices of the District solidify staff’s priority to provide all students with a safe and positive educational experience,” the spokesperson stated.

The district provides resources for student safety and mental health assistance, the spokesperson said, pointing to a section of the website where resources are listed “designated specifically for our LGBTQIA+ youth.”

The spokesperson said “the Parent Notification policy does protect transgender students and takes their safety extremely seriously” and requires staff “to notify CPS (Child Protective Services)/law enforcement if the student or staff member believes the student is in danger or has been abused, injured, or neglected due to their parent or guardian knowing of their preferred gender identity.”

In such circumstances, the spokesperson said, Chino Valley Unified would not notify parents or guardians but will “wait for the appropriate agencies to complete their investigations regarding the concerns shared by the student.”

Chino Valley Unified President Sonja Shaw told The Associated Press the state’s lawsuit came as no surprise as state officials previously attempted “to shut parents out of their children’s lives.”

“We will stand our ground and protect our children with all we can because we are not breaking the law,” Shaw said. “Parents have a constitutional right in the upbringing of their children. Period.”

Policies governing students who identify as transgender have generated increasing controversy. Nearly two dozen states have enacted bans on student athletes participating on sports teams corresponding with their self-perceived gender identity rather than biological sex, while other states have moved to protect such participation.

In guidance on health care policy and practices released March 20, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine opposed interventions that “involve the use of surgical or chemical techniques that aim to exchange the sex characteristics of a patient’s body for those of the opposite sex or for simulations thereof.”

“Any technological intervention that does not accord with the fundamental order of the human person as a unity of body and soul, including the sexual difference inscribed in the body, ultimately does not help but, rather, harms the human person,” the document states.

Several Catholic dioceses have begun forming pastoral approaches to gender dysphoria, particularly for students in Catholic schools. The Diocese of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, for instance, issued guidelines in 2022 for transgender-identifying youth, directing diocesan schools to demonstrate “conformity with the student’s biological sex as determined from conception and manifest at birth and at the time of the student’s enrollment.”

Kate Scanlon is a national reporter for OSV News covering Washington. Follow her on X (formerly Twitter) @kgscanlon.

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