School board politicians throughout Orange County are increasingly looking at adopting policies that require school staff to alert parents if their children are transgender – or alert parents to mental health struggles.
The notification policies have gained traction in school boards across California despite state Attorney General Rob Bonta warning officials that policies forcing the disclosure of a student’s gender identity will be met with legal action.
Those warnings did not stop Orange Unified School Board politicians from adopting such a policy last month.
Yet officials at the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District took another route – adopting a notification policy that doesn’t explicitly list LGBTQ+ students.
Instead, Placentia-Yorba Linda school board officials voted 3-2 Tuesday night to adopt a parental notification policy centered on reporting students who may pose a “clear and present danger” to themselves or others.
“This is a tool to be able to make sure that our parents are informed about things all the way from disruption of student learning up through extreme situations,” board member Todd Frazier said.
“It’s not an outing policy, it’s parent communication.”
The policy is sparking concerns that it could be used to target LGBTQ+ students and criticism from Trustee Carrie Buck that the board majority was trying to avoid further questions by adopting it on a first and only reading.
Buck said the district already has guidelines in place to keep parents informed and that the move was political.
“We’re doing this right after all of these other districts are doing it,” Buck said. “I think it’s all tied to the other policies, which is why it sounds political.”
Student trustee Aidan Mintzer said the notification policy should include language that prevents it from being used on LGBTQ+ students and pushed for his proposal to be further discussed by the board.
“In other districts, there are similar policies that are used against the LGBTQ community and I feel like we need to further differentiate this policy,” Mintzer said. “I am the one that’s most closely related to all the other students. I feel like my opinion does matter.”
But a majority of the board refused.
Will it Impact LGBTQ+ Students?
The policy, as requested by Superintendent Alex Cherniss, does not contain the words “gender identity” or “transgender.”
Buck questioned why the policy was being pushed Tuesday night and asked Cherniss several times if it would require school counselors to notify parents if the student identifies as LGBTQ+ or wants to go by a different pronoun.
“I don’t believe this is a gender notification policy,” Cherniss said. “I see other districts that are calling out gender in their policies. This is to call out the strengthening of the relationship and the communication between staff and students.”
He also recommended against adding clarifying language that it was not a transgender notification policy.
Cherniss’ proposal stresses the importance of school counselors disclosing “confidential information” to parents if they have reason to believe their child presents “clear and present danger” to themselves or others.
“It is the intent of Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District in enacting this parental notification policy to integrate parent(s)/guardian(s) into the decision-making process for mental health and social- emotional issues of their children arising at school at the earliest possible time in order to prevent or reduce potential instances of harm,” reads the policy.
The California Education Code already requires such disclosures and the new policy also reiterates existing school board policy.
School board member Leandra Blades said the policy goes beyond LGBTQ+ students and aims to keep all students safe. She called for a second vote on the policy to be waived.
“Let’s stop with this whole, ‘This is people trying to out people,’” Blades said. “No, we are looking out for the safety of the students, which we are responsible to do.”
Some parents and activists spoke out against the policy Tuesday, arguing it was redundant to existing law, vague and questioned if it was going to be used as a transgender disclosure policy like in other districts.
“This policy is vague on purpose to later be weaponized to target a group of students and call their behavior endangering other students, which is not accurate,” district parent Patricia Hanzo said during public comment.
“The proposed policy seems to arm employees to call the guardian within 24 hours to snitch, complain about or out a student. It encourages eavesdropping on and off campus.”
Others spoke in favor of the policy, arguing that parents should know what’s going on in their children’s lives.
“One of my children did have a problem for a while thinking that she was a boy,” said Andy Falco, a parent in the district. “And if it wasn’t for someone intervening and letting us know, we would not have been able to talk to her about it and to help her through the difficulties she was having.”
Meanwhile, hate activity in Orange County — especially toward the LGBTQ+ community — has continued increasing each year.
A report released late September from Groundswell showed a 126% jump in anti-LGBTQ+ hate in 2022 compared to 2021.
Transgender Notification Policies Gain Steam
Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District’s move comes as politicians at school districts across California have implemented transgender notification policies over the past couple months, despite pushback from state officials like state Attorney General Bonta and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond.
When Thurmond spoke out against the policy at a Chino Valley School Board meeting earlier this year, he was thrown out of the meeting.
Bonta has since filed a lawsuit against the school district in San Bernardino County Superior Court, arguing that it discriminated against transgender students.
A judge has granted a temporary restraining order against enforcing the policy in the district –– the first to adopt this kind of policy in California.
“As we continue monitoring school districts considering similar policies statewide, I urge them to prioritize the well-being of the youth they are charged to protect,” Bonta said in a Sept. 26 news release. “We look forward to continue fighting our position in court to ensure every student has access to a safe and inclusive learning environment.”
Despite such pushback from state officials, a majority of Orange Unified School Board members voted to adopt a similar notification policy at the Sept. 7 meeting that would require school staff to alert parents if their children are transgender — the first school district in OC to do so.
Board Member Madison Miner requested the policy, arguing in part that she did not want children lying to their parents and pointing to high suicide rate in transgender youth.
Miner, along with Board President Rick Ledesma, are also facing recall efforts over the abrupt firing of former district Superintendent Gunn Marie Hansen.
Orange Unified school board members Kris Erickson, Andrea Yamasaki and Ana Page left the Sept. 7 meeting prior to the vote after a disruption during public comments. Yamasaki told Voice of OC they left due to personal safety concerns.
Yamasaki also said she worried the policy would force students to come out before they’re ready.
Trustees in the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District and the Orange Unified School District aren’t the only politicians floating the idea of a notification policy.
Lisa Davis, a trustee in the Capistrano Unified School District — one of the biggest districts in the county — said in a Sept. 20 meeting that she planned to bring a parental notification policy for consideration at the Oct. 18 meeting.
“This brings parents into the conversation regarding some of the most important aspects of their child’s life,” Davis said at the meeting. “We cannot have a system where we are losing trust with parents any longer.”
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.
Angelina Hicks is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @angelinahicks13.
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