Dina Harris, Murrieta Valley Unified District attorney, explains to the board her concerns with the policy as presented.
Dina Harris, Murrieta Valley Unified District attorney, explains to the board her concerns with the policy as presented. (MVUSD YouTube/Screenshot)

The Murrieta Valley Unified School District Board of Education last week adopted a new policy that requires district personnel to notify parents if a child comes out as transgender or nonbinary, despite concerns by board members, district staff, parents and students.

“Typically, in my experience, a board policy doesn’t get on an agenda this quickly without some further discussions, conversations, adjustments, and … attorney-client privilege type conversations that we haven’t had an opportunity to have,” Dina Harris, MVUSD attorney, said during her presentation to the board.

The policy, which is the exact same policy adopted last month by Chino Valley Unified School District, requires parents to be notified within three days if their child asks to be identified or treated as a gender other than their biological sex, including asking to be called by another name that differs from their legal name or using pronouns that do not align with their biological sex.

The policy further requires that parents be notified if their child is seeking to be part of an athletic team or use a bathroom or changing facilities that do not align with their biological sex or if their child seeks to make a change to information in their official or unofficial records.

The policy also includes parental notification standards for when students are injured either on school property or during a school-sponsored activity and if there is a verbal or physical altercation involving their child. The policy also includes instructions for district employees if they find out that a student might be experiencing suicidal ideations or harming themselves.

The policy also states that the district must keep a record of all notifications as part of the student’s file.

Harris said there were a number of legal concerns with the policy as written, including state law that gives students the legal right to participate in programs and use facilities consistent with their gender identity; legal guidance from the California Department of Education and the California School Boards Association that school officials get consent from a student before disclosing the student is transgender to anyone; and state laws regarding privacy rights.

And though she said there has been limited case law involving policies that require parental notification for transgender or nonbinary students, Harris brought up a recent case out of Chico Unified School District. In that case, a parent sued the school district after the district failed to notify her that her child was using pronouns not aligned with their biological sex at school.

“The parent alleged violation of [her] constitutional rights,” she said. “That case was dismissed.”

United States District Judge John A. Mendez wrote in the ruling: “The issue before this Court is not whether it is a good idea for school districts to notify parents of a minor’s gender identity and receive consent before using alternative names and pronouns, but whether the United States Constitution mandates such parental authority. This Court holds that it does not.”

Harris also pointed out that the policy has the potential to conflict with other district policies and might require additional regulations in order to be implemented in a way that follows both state law and previously set district standards.

“So aside from on its face, whether it’s legal or not, there’s the implementation of it, and concerns there and how to make sure it’s being implemented so as not to violate rights, or laws or your own policies,” she said. “So those are just some implementation concerns.”

Along with these concerns, board members Linda Lunn and Nancy Young raised concerns about the welfare of LGBTQ+ students in the district if the policy were to be adopted.

“I had [a] male student about five or six years ago who was openly gay,” Young, a former high school teacher, said. “His parents told him to kill himself, and he had an older brother who did kill himself for exactly the same reason. 

“These laws are there for a reason, because most kids can talk to their parents and do talk to their parents,” she continued. “There are those very few where it’s not safe.”

Those concerns were echoed by a number of MVUSD parents and students in the audience.

“You all stand here today representing over 25,000 students in this district, a fast growing community, yet here you target a group that hundreds of students identify with,” Anna Pham, a senior at Murrieta Valley High School, said. “You claim you’re here to protect the students of Murrieta, however the decision of outing LGBTQ students endangers them, putting [them] at risk for homelessness, abuse, assault and discrimination because others are unaccepting of their identity.”

According to The Trevor Project, nearly 30% of LGBTQ+ youth have reported experiencing housing instability or homelessness at some point in their lives. The group also reports that LGBTQ+ youth are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide than their peers, due in part to the mistreatment and stigmatization they face in society.

Additionally, more than half of children who came out as transgender or nonbinary before the age of 13 reported they had been physically threatened or harmed due to their gender identity. Roughly 40% of those who came out as transgender or nonbinary after the age of 13 reported experiencing the same.

There were also a number of audience members who spoke in favor of the policy, with many stating that parents have a right to know if their children are transgender or nonbinary.

“When I gave you permission to educate my child, I did not give you permission to excommunicate me from crucial events happening in my child’s life,” Michelle Weaver, a MVUSD parent, said. “I have the right to know what’s going on with my child, who is my most precious gift, the one I would do anything for, because as her parent, I trust that I have her best interests at heart more than a stranger, more than any teacher and certainly more than the state of California.”

Harris provided the board with a range of options it could take regarding the policy including: adopt the policy as presented, adopt an amended version of the policy including one or more of her recommendations to address some of the concerns she previously raised; postpone making a decision until additional discussions and review of the policy could take place; postpone making a decision on the policy until case there is greater legal clarity; or decline to adopt the policy. 

Ultimately, Board Member Julie Vandegrift made the motion to adopt the policy as written, replacing Chino Valley with Murrieta Valley, with the intent of bringing it back to the board with recommended amendments at a later date. The motion was seconded by Board Clerk Nicolas Pardue. The board adopted the policy 3-2, with Board President Paul F. Diffley casting the deciding vote. 

Board members Lunn and Young voted against the policy.

“This policy is not about LGBTQ issues, it is not about parent rights,” Lunn said. “It is not about students, it’s not about families, it’s not about education, it’s not about conservative values, or family values or progressive values. 

“It’s about picking a fight with Sacramento that will be funded with your tax dollars,” she continued. “There is a group in the Inland Valley, who has wanted for years and years to get a case in front of the Supreme Court with their name on it, and they are leveraging it, and policies like this — vague, overbroad policies that are not written for Murrieta — that’s their ticket.”

Following the vote, Attorney General Rob Bonta issued a press release denouncing the board’s action, calling the policy “harmful to the well-being of LGBTQ+ students.”

“I am deeply disturbed to learn another school district has put at risk the safety and privacy of transgender and gender nonconforming students by adopting a forced outing policy,” he said in the release. “My office remains committed to ensuring school policies do not target or seek to discriminate against California’s most vulnerable communities. California will not stand for violations of our students’ civil rights.”

Earlier this month, Bonta launched a civil rights investigation into the CVUSD Board of Education’s adoption of the same policy.

A video of the meeting can be found on MVUSD’s YouTube page in two parts. Part one can be found here. Part two can be found here.

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