Editorial: Chino school board's decision is dangerous

  • by BAR Editorial Board
  • Wednesday July 26, 2023
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State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond was escorted from the Chino Valley school board meeting July 20. Photo: From YouTube<br>
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond was escorted from the Chino Valley school board meeting July 20. Photo: From YouTube

On the heels of the attempt by the conservative Temecula school board in Southern California to ban textbooks, the equally right-wing Chino Valley Unified School District board in San Bernardino County has adopted a policy that is dangerous. It will forcibly out transgender, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming students to their parents without the student's consent. At a contentious meeting July 20, the board had elected state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond ejected from the meeting after he attempted to return to the podium to respond to comments by school board President Sonja Shaw, who accused him of "proposing things that pervert children."

Thurmond, who recently announced that he's exploring a run for governor in 2026, wrote on X (formerly Twitter), "I don't mind being thrown out of a board meeting by extremists. I can take the heat — it's part of the job. What I can't accept is the mistreatment of vulnerable students whose privacy is being taken away." In a fundraising letter to supporters, Thurmond added, "In all my years as an education leader, I've never seen behavior like what was displayed by the Chino Valley Unified school board president this past week."

The school board's new policy is chilling. It will impact trans, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming students who may not be ready to come out to their parents or who may face real harm if they do. By requiring school officials to forcibly out these students to their parents without their consent, the Chino school board has sacrificed learning for pandering to social conservatives, just like all the Republican lawmakers in red states who have voted for bans on gender-affirming care for trans youth — and the governors who have signed that legislation. State Attorney General Rob Bonta sent an urgent letter to the school board and the district superintendent ahead of the vote, urging them to safeguard students' rights to privacy and promising to take appropriate action to protect students' civil rights.

"The protection of every student's privacy and safety is of utmost importance, and that includes protecting their right to choose when, how, and with whom they share their gender identity. That is a personal decision for them, and them alone," Bonta stated in a news release.

Equality California, the statewide LGBTQ rights group, was also alarmed by the school board's decision. It, too, had staff removed from the meeting, according to a news release.

"With LGBTQ+ youth around the country under attack, the school board put their most vulnerable students in harm's way with their dangerous vote to forcibly out trans, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming youth without their consent," Executive Director Tony Hoang stated July 21. "The policy they passed last night is dangerous and in direct opposition to recommendations made by the California Department of Education."

Hoang, a gay man, pointed to Trevor Project's 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health that found 51% of trans and nonbinary youth identified school as a gender-affirming space, while only 32% said the same of their homes. (The survey included responses from 44,828 LGBTQ youth ages 13-24.) Hoang also noted that queer youth are more likely to be housing insecure and engage in self-harming behavior — particularly if they don't feel they have a supportive family environment.

EQCA called out Shaw's rhetoric and behavior. Hoang stated that she and fellow members "referred to LGBTQ+ students as being mentally ill — a harmful and wildly false statement to make in front of students attending the meeting."

Assemblymember Bill Essayli (R-Riverside) attended the meeting. He's the lawmaker who attempted to pass a bill that would have implemented forced outing policies statewide, EQCA noted. Thankfully, the bill died in April after the chair of the Assembly Education Committee opted not to schedule it for a hearing.

At the time, Essayli tried to argue that his bill actually benefited trans minors, which is magical thinking. "My bill is aimed at supporting trans minors, not hurting them. The notification requirement is only triggered when a minor is already publicly identifying by a different gender at school," he wrote on X back then. That, of course, was the problem with his bill — it would have forced outing trans students who may have wanted their teachers and peers to call them by a different name and pronoun.

The existence of LGBTQ youth should not be a partisan issue, yet that's exactly what it has become in our current political climate. We're extremely grateful that Thurmond went to that Chino school board meeting and stood up for queer youth, and, in the process, showed everyone exactly what we're facing from transphobic school board members. With the new school year starting soon, it's imperative that all students get the support they need on campus.

The Chino district might want to see what happened regarding the Chico school district in Northern California. There, a parent sued the district and the superintendent because they believed the district permits school personnel to socially transition students and prohibits the district from informing parents. But a federal judge recently dismissed the parent's lawsuit, which challenged the state's policy of allowing students to be their authentic selves at school without fear of being outed at school or at home.

United States District Judge John A. Mendez held that parents do not have a constitutional right to force schools to out students who use different names and pronouns at school than those they were assigned at birth, noted the American Civil Liberties Union. The judge also made clear that schools have an interest in protecting students' privacy and ensuring they aren't bullied or harassed.

Based on this ruling, Chino is likely on the losing side of the argument should it be subject to litigation. The Chino district should rescind its hurtful and dubious policy.

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