Two CA Courts Issue Opposite Rulings Regarding Gender Secrecy in Schools

Sep 21, 2023

A federal district judge recently ruled in favor of two Christian teachers by temporarily blocking San Diego County’s Escondido Unified School District’s (USD) policy that required the teachers to lie to parents and hide students’ gender confusion. The ruling comes a week after San Bernardino Superior Court granted a temporary restraining order against Chino Valley Unified School District (CVUSD) in San Bernardino County blocking its blanket policy of being honest with parents about gender identity and their children.

Regarding Escondido USD, U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez issued a preliminary injunction that protects two Christian middle school teachers who challenged the secrecy policy. The teachers argued that the policy infringed on their First Amendment Free Speech and Free Exercise of religion rights, and if they were to comply and be dishonest with parents it would violate their “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

While the teachers petitioned the court to strike down the policy, Judge Benitez’s injunction was narrowly tailored to apply to just the two teachers that brought the suit. However, the judge clearly indicated the secrecy policy appears to undermine constitutional rights calling it a “trifecta of harm.”

Judge Benitez wrote, “It harms the child who needs parental guidance and possibly mental health intervention to determine if the incongruence is organic or whether it is the result of bullying, peer pressure, or a fleeting impulse. It harms the parents by depriving them of the long recognized Fourteenth Amendment right to care, guide, and make health care decisions for their children. And finally, it harms plaintiffs who are compelled to violate the parent's rights by forcing plaintiffs to conceal information they feel is critical for the welfare of their students — violating plaintiffs' religious beliefs.” 

Judge Benitez stated the teachers “face an unlawful choice along the lines of: ‘lose your faith and keep your job, or keep your faith and lose your job.’” 

He noted the school district’s insistence that the child’s right to privacy supersedes the rights of parents is “mistaken” and the “Constitution neither mandates nor tolerates that kind of discrimination.” 

As for CVUSD, the San Bernadino Superior Court, a state-level court, blocked its new policy of notifying parents if students wish to be known as a different gender or change their pronouns. The district’s policy requires faculty to notify parents within three days if students request to identify with a gender, participate in programs, or use school facilities inconsistent with the gender listed on their birth certificate. The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed by California Attorney General Rob Bonta who is investigating the school district due to what he called a “forced outing policy.” The ruling blocks the policy until an October 13 hearing to determine whether to allow or permanently block the policy. 

The Superior Court stated the school district already had leeway to keep parents informed about their children, but it also noted CVUSD was bound to protect students and favored putting students’ rights over parents’ rights. 

The Court wrote, “Without the Policy, schools could still disclose a student’s gender identity to their parents, even without the student’s consent, if there was a compelling need to protect the student’s well-being…Conversely… forcing disclosure…risks breaching the duty of care CVUSD owes its students.” 

According to California Assemblymember Bill Essayli, who has proposed a state law similar to CVUSD’s policy, states the Superior Court’s opinion does not apply to any other school and that the ruling will be appealed. 

Despite Attorney General Bonta’s investigation and lawsuit, at least six other California school districts have enacted similar policies, such as Orange, Temecula, Murrieta, Rocklin, and Dry Creek Unified School Districts, and Anderson Union High School District. 

According to Parents Defending Education, a grassroots organization promoting non-political education in the public classroom, at least 1,044 U.S. school districts have adopted secrecy policies to keep parents in the dark regarding any change in their child’s gender-related behavior. The policies span across 37 states covering more than 18,000 schools with nearly 11 million children enrolled. 

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “Requiring teachers to be dishonest in the course of their job is an unconscionable situation. The First Amendment prohibits forcing someone to lie. Moreover, parents have the right to direct the upbringing of their children. The Escondido policy puts teachers and parents at odds when they should be united toward a child’s well-being. The Chino Valley policy would ensure the parents are rightfully involved when their children need them most.”

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