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California Bill Would Ban Schools from Outing Trans Students

The legislation would bar school districts from adopting parental notification policies that would require school staff to inform a student’s parents if the student shows signs of being transgender.

people raising the transgender flag outside of a school building
SCUSD Student Board Member Liam McGurk, center, helps raise the transgender flag outside the Serna Center in Sacramento on Monday, March 20, 2023. The event was the first annual Trans Day of Visibility flag raising. The flag will be flown for the remainder of March in observance of Trans Day of Visibility which is March 31.
Renée C. Byer/
California Democrats introduced a bill in Sacramento on Wednesday that would prohibit school districts from adopting parental notification policies, which they said are harmful, “forced outing” practices that cause suffering for LGBTQ students.

The policies, which several conservative-leaning school boards across the state enacted over the last year, require school staff to inform a student’s parents if the student shows signs of being transgender. Such signs can include going by a different name and using pronouns that don’t align with their biological sex.

The new bill is the latest volley in a political war that’s been raging for more than a year.

Last year, a California Republican assemblyman introduced a bill that would have forced school staff in all schools in the state to inform parents if their child showed signs of being transgender.

The Democratic-controlled Assembly killed the bill, Assembly Bill 1314 by Assemblyman Bill Essayli, R- Corona, before it could even get a hearing. But Democratic lawmakers couldn’t stop the momentum behind it — the fervor of a parents’ rights movement that inspired school board after school board to adopt a similar measure.

Now Assembly Democrats are trying a different approach.

Assemblyman Chris Ward, D- San Diego, on Wednesday unveiled a bill to bar school districts from passing such policies, and to protect school staff who defy such policies from district retaliation.

Assembly Bill 1955 is a gut-and-amend bill, meaning that Ward stripped the bill of its original language and replaced it with the new wording.

According to Ward, the bill has three major pieces:

▪ It spells out that districts are prohibited from enacting “forced outing” policies of LGBTQ students.

▪ It provides resources and support to LGBTQ students and their family, such as access to counseling and other mental health services.

▪ It bars school districts from punishing employees who defy their policies in keeping with the superseding state law.

The bill is must go through the Senate, but because it has been amended it will have to also be voted on again by the Assembly before going to the governor’s desk for a signature.

Why Now?

Ward, vice chair of the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus, said that his bill is a caucus priority.

Asked why, more than a year after Essayli’s bill started the parental notification movement in California, lawmakers were only just now responding with legislation, Ward said that while the caucus wanted to respond last summer, as the school districts first began adopting these proposals.

They chose to wait for legal guidance from the many court battles being waged on the topic.

The legality of such policies is currently being put the test in several lawsuits across the state. Elected officials at the highest level of state government, including Gov. Gavin Newsom, Attorney General Rob Bonta, and Superintendent Tony Thurmond have taken an aggressive stance against the policies.

Chino Valley Unified School District in Riverside passed its own parent notification policy last August, and has since become embroiled in a legal battle with the Attorney General’s office about whether or not the policy is discriminatory.

Dry Creek Joint Elementary School District in Roseville passed a similar policy last fall, but has said it won’t enforce the policy while the courts decide whether it’s legal or not.

Rocklin Unified School District in Placer County passed its own contentious policy after several hours of public debate last September, and last week voted to accept pro-bono legal support from a conservative, Chicago-based firm that takes on high-profile culture war issues, for a case with the state Department of Education. The department called the policy “discriminatory” and ordered that they rescind it.

Essayli has committed to taking the issue all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

‘Teachers Have a Job to Do’

Asked about the bill’s chances of being signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Ward said his team is focused on just getting the bill passed through both houses of the Legislature first.

“This really comes down to the suffering and the challenges that LGBTQ youth are feeling,” Ward said.

He cited surveys of transgender youths who said that they feel safer and more supported at school than at home. A 2022 survey by the LGBTQ advocacy group the Trevor Project found that just 32 percent of trans and nonbinary youths view their home as a safe and affirming place.

Ward said that his bill doesn’t take away a parent’s right to know about their child.

“Parents can always engage their kid and have a conversation,” he said.

Ward said that it’s important not to confuse the parent-child relationship with the student-teacher relationship, and that the district policies place an unacceptable burden on teachers.

The policies have proven wildly unpopular among most teachers, particular among teachers’ unions. In the Rocklin district, the local teachers’ union has gone so far as to file an Unfair Practice Charge with the California Public Employment Relations Board, saying that the board’s decision to pass the policy without union input is a violation of the Educational Employment Relations Act.

Many teachers have also said the policies put them in a precarious legal position where in they would have to violate student privacy, and just as many have said they won’t enforce the policy, even if costs them their jobs.

“Teachers have a job to do,” Ward said. “They’re not the gender police.”

©2024 The Sacramento Bee. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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