Teachers and staff members in Orange Unified School District may be forced to inform parents if their children identify as transgender or request to be treated as a gender that differs from their biological sex.

The school board first considered the proposal at its meeting last Thursday with dozens of public comments on both sides of the issue.

The item was brought forward by board members Rick Ledesma and Madison Miner. The discussion was the first reading on the board’s agenda and will return in September for a formal vote and potential adoption.

“We believe it is important to clarify communication between the school district and parents and guardians on these important matters pertaining to the mental health and social and emotional issues of their students in order to prevent or reduce potential issues of self-harm,” Ledesma said during the meeting.

Miner said the policy is important to help protect children from suicide or self-harm since children that identify as transgender are more likely to suffer from suicidal ideation.

“A parent is a child’s best advocate,” Miner said. “If we can save children from suicide by bringing their parents alongside them, I think it’s a great idea.”

But board member Kris Erickson said the district already has policies that address suicide, and the only new aspect of the policy is regarding gender identity.

“I have three concerns: one is the targeting and discrimination of trans and nonbinary students,” Erickson said. “Two is the high likelihood of expensive litigation that I think will come from this, and three is the blatant government interference in the family unit that this mandates.”

If passed, the proposed policy states that notifications must be sent to parents and guardians by school district staff within three school days of discovering that a student wishes to identify or be treated as a gender other than their biological sex.

That includes if a student requests to use a name that differs from their legal name or pronouns associated with their biological sex and if a student requests to access sex-segregated school programs that do not align with their biological sex.

Greg Goodlander, president of the Orange Unified Education Association and French teacher at Orange High School, signed a letter addressed to the school board speaking against the proposal.

“Disclosure of a transgender or gender nonconforming student’s gender identity to parents without the student’s consent could expose the District to liability under state and federal privacy laws and California’s anti-discrimination laws,” the letter reads.

Around 60 speakers also came to the meeting, many of which spoke against the item.

“This policy would make students feel unsafe in school,” said Ruby Hewitt, a recent graduate from El Modena High School and former student school board member. “This policy would make students feel guilty for who they are by targeting their identity as an abnormality or something they should be punished for.”

Other speakers championed parents’ rights to be informed about their children’s health and well-being.

“Whose children are they?” parent Gheorghe Rosca said. “These children are not the school board’s children. They are not the government’s children. They are the parents’ children and parents have the rights over them.”

Earlier this summer, both the Chino Valley Unified School District and Murrieta Valley Unified School District passed a similar motion, both enduring long periods of public comment and debate.

Kristi Hirst, a parent of three students in Chino Valley public schools, came to the Orange Unified meeting to describe what could happen if this motion is passed.

“Let Chino serve as a warning,” Hirst said. “This policy has been inaccurately portrayed as a parent’s rights policy, but it is the exact opposite. This policy put teachers and the government right in the middle of family matters. It puts the government at our kitchen tables.”

Before the vote, the Chino Valley school board gained the attention of California Attorney General Rob Bonta who criticized the item in a letter and urged the board to prioritize protecting student privacy. Despite this warning, the board voted 4-1 to instate the policy.

“In addition to infringing upon student privacy, forced ‘outing’ of students to their parents is very likely to result in significant emotional, mental, and even physical harm and subject students to discriminatory harassment,” Bonta wrote in the letter.

Bonta announced he is opening a civil rights investigation into potential legal violations by the Chino Valley school board. He also released a statement lambasting the Murrieta Valley school board for the same action.

Although the Orange Unified board did not vote directly on the item, the members’ comments were split on the issue last Thursday.

Board members Andrea Yamasaki, Ana Page and Erickson said they oppose the policy while board members John Ortega, Ledesma and Miner said they supported it. 

“It should be dictated by the student on how they choose to come out — not dictated by a policy or our board,” Page said.

Board member Angie Rumsey said she saw issues with both sides of the argument and questioned what would happen to teachers if they failed to notify parents of their child’s gender identity.

The item will return at the board’s next meeting on Sept. 7, which starts at 5:30 p.m.

Angelina Hicks is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact her at ahicks@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @angelinahicks13.


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