A student boards a school bus after school dismissal on Jan. 20, 2022. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Orange County’s largest school district will not be adopting a parental notification policy after two other districts approved similar policies over the past two months — policies that have caught the eye of state Attorney General Rob Bonta.

School boards across the state have been passing policies recently that require schools to alert parents if their child is transgender or if they are experiencing mental health issues.

Bonta’s been focused on the policies, saying they discriminate against transgender students and has secured an injunction against enforcing the policy in a San Bernardino County school district.

Capistrano Unified School District, which educates over 40,000 students, voted against the notification policy Wednesday on a 2-5 vote. Board members Lisa Davis and Judy Bullockus voted for the policy.

Board member Michael Parham said the current notification system is already working the way it is.

“Our teachers have been phenomenal about reaching out to us,” Parham said at Wednesday night’s meeting. “I’m sure many of you have had the same experience with the teachers in Capo. In fact, I haven’t heard any anecdotes where that didn’t happen. We’ve heard a lot of things, but we haven’t heard negative comments about teachers deliberately not telling you something about your own child.”

Davis, who proposed the notification policy, said the move would increase parent involvement. 

“To be more specific, the issue tonight is whether or not parents should be excluded from major decisions relating to their children, especially when those children are at a greater risk of suffering from emotional or mental health-related issues,” David said. 

Orange Unified School District was the first in OC to adopt the notification policy last month, specifically stating that the policy affected transgender students — the same type of policy that’s caught Bonta’s attention throughout the state.

[Read: An OC School District Adopts Transgender Notification; State AG Issues Legal Threat]

Placentia Yorba-Linda School District voted in a similar policy earlier this month, but it didn’t specify anything about LGBTQ+ students. The policy instead said that parents would be notified about any student that posed a “clear and present danger” to themselves or others.

[Read: An OC School District Adopts New Parent Alert Policy; Will it Impact LGBTQ+ Students?]

In Capistrano Unified, the failed policy proposal was also vague — it didn’t mention a specific group, like transgender students.

It explained that it would alert parents of any students who are “exhibiting symptoms of depression, anxiety, a dramatic shift in academic performance, social withdrawal or other significant changes affecting a student’s well-being.”

Davis mentioned transgender students when talking about the need for the policy and most of the discussion focused on how the policy would affect students questioning their gender identity.

“Consider the scenario where a child approaches a teacher and expresses distress regarding depression or anxiety or gender identity concerns,” Davis said at the meeting. “The teacher carefully listens. The distress is very real. The teacher wants to help. The child asked the teacher not to share these disclosures with the parents.”

She continued: “What should the teacher do? Does the teacher take on the role of knowing what to do for the child? Does the teacher believe that offering gender-affirming support would alleviate stress? The teacher may be correct in the short term, but it is possible that the teacher could miss something.” 

Tyler Pearce, the student board representative, spoke out against the policy and urged the board members to oppose it.

“I feel like this is an outing policy,” Pearce said. “This parental notification policy in its nature is divisive. It’s unnecessary, and it’s deep-rooted in both political and personal agendas. We need to stop creating this umbrella of mental illness to refer to specific communities.”

There was an hour and a half allowed for people to comment for one minute each before board discussion. Dozens of other current students — who were given priority to speak during the public comment section — overwhelmingly opposed the policy. 

“I felt safe coming out at school,” a nonbinary student from Capistrano Valley High School said during the meeting. “If my teachers had caught wind of my identity, and a few of them certainly did, they may be forced to tell my parents. This was a nuanced conversation that I needed the time to work up the courage to have with my family, and I needed to be the one to have it. That is my right.”

Parham commended the student speakers who showed up to the meeting to speak on the topic.

“What I was probably most proud of is the critical thinking skills of these students to see through the BS and see through the misinformation,” Parham said. “I think we’re doing a great job of teaching these students critical thinking skills because they came well-prepared, and I think they taught us grownups about the next generation and what they’re capable of.”

During the meeting, Davis pointed to the Escondido Union School District in San Diego County, where a federal judge temporarily blocked the district from enforcing a policy that encourages privacy for transgender students.

The district’s policy forced school staff to keep students’ transgender identity private — including from their parents — unless the student gave written consent or if disclosure was necessary to protect the student’s safety.

U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez, who adjudicated the case, said the policy was “a trifecta of harm.”

But in San Bernardino, a Superior Court judge ruled in favor of a temporary injunction requested by Bonta against the Chino Valley School Board — the first school district in California to pass a parental notification policy for transgender students. 

The ruling prevents the district from enforcing the policy until the court case is resolved.

On Thursday, San Bernardino Superior Court Judge Michael Sachs ruled the policy couldn’t be enforced by the district until a jury trial decides if the policy is legal or not, according to Courthouse News Service

At Wednesday’s meeting, Capistrano Unified School District Board President Krista Castellanos said there’s existing mechanisms for school officials to report student mental health issues to parents. 

“There are resources out there for you as parents, and that’s important for us to communicate those out to you,” Castellanos said. “We can always do a better job at communicating and better transparency.”

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


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