A San Bernardino Superior Court judge on Wednesday ruled the Chino Valley Unified School District must hold off on enforcing a new policy requiring district officials to notify parents if they become aware a student is gender-nonconforming or transgender.
Judge Tom Garza granted the state of California’s request for a temporary restraining order. A hearing is scheduled Oct. 13 to continue discussing the issue.
The ruling is the latest in a showdown unfolding in the Golden State, pitting state leaders against conservative-leaning school districts over LGBTQ+ issues.
“Educating children works best with engaged parents and caring teachers working together to create a safe space for all children to learn,” Kristi Hirst, a parent and former Chino Valley Unified school teacher, said in a statement. “This policy breaks down trust between parents, teachers and students and exposes our most vulnerable students.”
Earlier this year, the Chino Valley Unified district became the first in the state to adopt a policy requiring schools to inform parents if a student identifies as a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth. Chino Valley’s ruling created a ripple effect, influencing school boards across the state from Anderson Union High School District in Shasta County to Orange Unified School District in Orange County.
The Chino Valley policy requires district staff to notify parents in writing within three days if they become aware of a student using names, pronouns or changing facilities such as bathrooms that do not match their biological sex. It was inspired by Assemblymember Bill Essayli’s (R-Corona) failed bill that would’ve required the state’s school districts to inform parents if their child was gender-nonconforming or transgender.
Chino Valley is the latest district to take on LGBTQ+ issues at school meetings. It first limited what flags could be displayed in classrooms, such as the U.S. and California flags. Rainbow flags, which signify support for LGBTQ+ rights, are not allowed. Then it proposed its “parent notification policy.”
The controversial policy prompted Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta in July to warn the school district in a letter that if it moved forward with its proposal, legal action could be taken as the policy was likely illegal and placed transgender students in danger.
The following month, state Supt. of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond was cut off by Chino Valley Unified Board President Sonja Shaw during the meeting’s public comment period.
“I refuse to stand by and allow Chino Valley or any district board of education to put our children at risk or infringe upon their rights, especially not one of our most vulnerable at-risk groups,” Bonta said in announcing the lawsuit at a recent news conference in Los Angeles. “Across the country and in our own backyard, the LGBTQ+ community is under attack, and transgender and gender-nonconforming students are on the front lines.”
Essayli, an attorney and former federal prosecutor, challenged Bonta’s legal arguments and demanded that the attorney general specify what laws were being violated.
With impassioned debate from both sides, constitutional experts have said the legal realities of such policies are more nuanced than how it’s presented.