A photo of the Hemet Unified School District administration building.
The Hemet Unified School District Board of Education last week swore in a new board member to fill the Trustee Area 6 vacancy. (Credit: Hemet Unified School District)

The Hemet Unified School District Board of Education last week decided against moving forward with discussions about a parental notification policy, opting instead to wait and see what comes from a pair of lawsuits currently working their way through the courts.

The first lawsuit, involving Escondido Union School District, was filed in April by two teachers in response to a policy that bars staff from disclosing a student’s gender identity — even to their parents — unless the student provides written consent or that disclosure is otherwise required by law, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

The Union-Tribune reported that the district has been temporarily prevented from enforcing the policy after a judge argued that the policy harms students and infringes on parents’ rights. The case is still working its way through the courts.

The second lawsuit, involving Chino Valley Unified School District, was filed in August by the state in response to a policy requiring parental notification if a student requests to use a name or pronoun different from that on their birth certificate or if they ask to use facilities or participate in programs that don’t align with their biological sex. The state alleges the policy violates state law. That same policy was recently adopted by the Murrieta Valley and Temecula Valley school districts.

Last week, the San Bernardino Superior Court issued a preliminary injunction against Chino Valley Unified School District Board of Education, further preventing the district from enforcing the policy after the court found that the state was “likely to prevail” in its case, according to a release from California Attorney General Rob Bonta’s office.

Along with the threat of potential litigation and its associated costs, attorney Peter Fagen said the board should also consider the potential labor ramifications of adopting a parental notification policy.

“Anytime there’s a change in a district policy that impacts the working conditions of your labor partners, that gives rise to a duty to bargain the impacts and effects of that change in their working conditions,” he said. “And if a decision is made without actually bargaining the impacts and effects prior to, then you open yourself up to an unfair labor practice charge.”

Fagen said his firm, Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost LLP, represents about 500 school districts across California that have taken different approaches to the issue of parental notification.

“As an attorney, I have an ethical duty, I swore an oath as well, and my duty is to zealously advocate for my clients and advise them to the best of my ability regardless of which way they go,” he said. “And so my goal is to, whatever the decision, make sure that you know what potential consequences might be, and that you go down a path that would minimize any potential risk of liability along the path that you choose to follow.”

Comments from those in the audience skewed heavily in favor of a parental notification policy similar to the one adopted in Chino Valley, with speakers like Birth Choice Center Director Liana Weskamp, a representative from the office of Assemblymember Kate Sanchez (R-71st District) and California State Assembly District 60 Republican candidate Ron Edwards all speaking about the rights of parents.

“Parents need to be made aware of their children’s health and safety — mentally, physically, any other kind of way,” Edwards said. “Children belong to parents, they belong to parents. Nobody else has children, nobody in this world has children, only parents have children.”

Those who spoke against moving forward with a policy similar to the one adopted by Chino Valley included Hemet Teachers Association President Rebekah Young and other educators in the district.

“The forced outing policy being considered tonight is contrary to the core, to the values set forth here in Hemet, and enshrined in our mission statement,” Young said. “In other words, it is hypocritical to enact a policy that ensures that each day some students will be rejected, ignored, and disempowered.”

After a brief board discussion, Board President Stacey Bailey gave the board two options to see if consensus could be reached.

“Where we are is, make a decision today to go forward, and however it is we decided to go forward to investigate having a [policy], or to take a wait and see [approach],” she said. “That’s kind of the two sides of the coin: Move forward today or wait and see and give it a little time.”

Board member Kenneth Prado, who during the discussion spoke in support of a policy similar to the one adopted in Chino Valley, pushed back on the choices the board was given, asking for a third option to be added.

“Those shouldn’t be the only two options,” he said. “Why can’t we set up a subcommittee where we can have our attorneys come and speak to us and give us more information than just during a discussion item?”

Bailey said that it didn’t make fiduciary sense to set up a subcommittee and bring in Fagen to discuss a potential policy if the consensus on the board was to put a pause on the conversation until the lawsuits had worked their way through the courts.

“I don’t know if you know this, but he doesn’t do this because he loves us — although I’m sure he does — but it costs us money to have our lawyer come and sit with us,” she said. “So in our fiduciary responsibility, if we’re in wait and see mode, then [Fagen], we’ll wait until we decide to do something before we have him come back. Don’t take it personally.”

Ultimately, the majority of the board chose to take a wait and see approach on the issue with Bailey telling Fagen that the board would “probably revisit this at another time.”

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Alicia Ramirez is the publisher of TN News and the founder and CEO of its parent company TN News.