SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (CN) — A Southern California school district's newly adopted policy to notify parents if their child identifies as transgender is unconstitutional in so far as it discriminates on the basis of sex, a state court judge ruled Thursday.
San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Michael Sachs said the Chino Valley Unified School District can't enforce its outing policy of transgender and gender-nonconforming students until its legality has been decided at trial.
The preliminary injunction requested by the California attorney general follows a previous ruling by another judge in September that temporarily halted the school district's policy.
Sachs noted the district's assertion that its policy aimed to create a supportive environment for the students and their parents was undermined by statements made by its board members at the July 20 meeting in which they adopted the policy. At that meeting, some board members likened transgender identification to mental illness, called it a "death culture," and said the policy was needed to fight the purported Marxist goal of abolishing the family.
"On the one hand, you have this policy that is expressed [...] as to bring the family, the school, the students together so that the students and parents have an avenue to address the mental health concerns and other concerns regarding their children," Sachs said. "On the other hand, are board members at an open meeting voicing their opinions that seem to counter the stated purpose of the policy."
The judge's tentative decision was to prevent the school district from enforcing the provisions of its policy that require the school to inform parents if their child requests to be identified by a gender other than the one assigned at birth or when the student wants to use gender-specific accommodations, such as bathrooms, or programs that don't match the gender they were assigned at birth.
The judge declined to completely enjoin a third provision that the school must notify parents if a students requests a change to their official or unofficial records because it applies equally to all students. The school may enforce that policy for students younger than 18, but not for older ones, the judge said.
Chino Valley is one of several school districts in often more conservative corners of California that have adopted what California Attorney General Rob Bonta has called "forced outing" policies.
Bonta sued Chino Valley in August and won a quick temporary restraining order until Thursday's hearing on longer term preliminary injunction.
The policy, according to the attorney general, places transgender and gender-nonconforming students in danger of imminent harm from being outed to their parents against their will. These students may face emotional and physical abuse at home and could even get kicked out by their parents.
Emily Rae, a lawyer representing the school district, said parents are entitled to know when their child goes through the emotional and social challenges of transitioning. If the child faces abuse at home, according to Rae, California has other laws to keep them safe.
"Parents are the legal guardians of these students, not the state," Rae told the judge.
Sachs refused to stay the California lawsuit pending the final outcome of a federal case pending in San Diego where two teachers are challenging a policy passed by the Escondido Union School District that prevents them from disclosing to parents if a student identifies as transgender.
U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez last month granted the teachers' request for a preliminary injunction, finding "the policy of elevating a child’s gender-related choices to that of paramount importance, while excluding a parent from knowing of, or participating in, that kind of choice, is as foreign to federal constitutional and statutory law as it is medically unwise."
Sachs on Thursday said he appreciated the invitation to stay the case before him but declined because the school policies involved aren't the same.
“Today’s bench ruling is a significant step forward that will set a precedent in our efforts to ensure every student is guaranteed the right to learn and thrive in a school environment that promotes nondiscrimination, safety, and inclusivity," Bonta said in a statement after the hearing. "Let this decision serve as a stern warning to other school districts that have passed or are contemplating similar policies: enforcing discriminatory practices will not be tolerated in our educational institutions.”Follow @edpettersson
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