Bonta's lawsuit against Chino Valley school district's 'forced outing' policy scores 2nd win

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Thursday October 19, 2023
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California Attorney General Rob Bonta spoke at the East Bay Stonewall Democratic Club's Pride breakfast in September. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland
California Attorney General Rob Bonta spoke at the East Bay Stonewall Democratic Club's Pride breakfast in September. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland

A San Bernardino Superior Court judge granted a preliminary injunction October 19 against enforcing two parts of a California school district's policy to out transgender and nonbinary students without their consent.

These include the requirements that staff out students for identifying as transgender or gender non-conforming, as well as for accessing sex-segregated programs and activities that align with their gender.

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, Courthouse News reported.

Last month, San Bernardino Superior Court Judge Tom Garza had granted California Attorney General Rob Bonta's request for a temporary restraining order on enforcing the policy, as the Bay Area Reporter previously reported, until the case could be heard, which it was October 19.

In an October 19 statement, Bonta commended the court "for reaffirming and upholding the constitutional rights and protections of transgender and gender-nonconforming students."

"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," he continued. "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."

The judge declined to completely enjoin a third provision that the school must notify parents if a student 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, according to Courthouse News.

The Chino Valley Unified School District Board of Education adopted a policy in July on a 4-1 vote that parents will be informed when a student requests names or pronouns be used other than those listed on their official records.

Kristi Hirst, a former teacher, parent, and co-founder of Our Schools USA, stated, "Today's ruling is a win for students, parents, teachers, and community members across California."

"It's embarrassing that this school board chooses to ignore the harm they are causing in Chino and in communities throughout California in order to pursue a political crusade," she stated. "Educating children works best with engaged parents and caring teachers working together to create a safe space for all children to learn — and that's what school boards ought to be focused on."

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond had been at that dramatic school board meeting; he was escorted out when he spoke against the policy proposal, championed by Chino Valley Unified Board President Sonja Shaw.

"We're going to safeguard parental rights," Shaw said at that time. "We're going to make sure that our parents at Chino Valley know they're sending their kids here to be taught, not to be anything else."

Shaw and the district did not immediately return requests for comment.

Bonta previously said that he would fight the Chino Valley school board's decision to adopt the policy.

"We're in court challenging Chino Valley Unified's forced outing policy for wrongfully and unconstitutionally discriminating against and violating the privacy rights of LGBTQ+ students," Bonta, a longtime straight ally, stated at the time. "The forced outing policy wrongfully endangers the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of non-conforming students who lack an accepting environment in the classroom and at home. Our message to Chino Valley Unified and all school districts in California is loud and clear: We will never stop fighting for the civil rights of LGBTQ+ students."

Bonta alleged in the lawsuit the policy was in violation of three areas of state law: first, the state's equal protection clause, which Bonta said was violated by the new policy singling out those whose gender identity doesn't align with the official documents; second, the state's education and government codes on the same basis; and third, the state constitution's right to privacy.

Five other California school boards — Orange, Rocklin, Temecula Valley, Murrieta Valley, and Anderson Union High School District — have adopted similar forced outing policies, though so far, Bonta has not filed lawsuits in those cases. Those school boards adopted their policies in August and September. Bonta has issued statements critical of the copycat policies.

Updated, 10/20/23: This article has been updated with comments from AG Rob Bonta.

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