Transparency in Teaching (Stuff) Podcast

To Out or Not to Out

To Out or Not to Out

Are Transgender Students’ Rights at Odds with Parents’ Rights?

The California lawsuit over transgender students’ rights policy in the Chino Valley Unified School District has sparked a heated debate about parents’ rights and the rights of transgender and gender-nonconforming students. The lawsuit, filed by California Attorney General Rob Bonta, aims to block the school district’s new policy that requires principals, teachers, or counselors to notify parents when their students change their gender identity or pronouns.

The lawsuit argues that this policy violates California’s constitutional guarantee of equal protection, privacy, and the fundamental right to an education. The policy, known as 5020.1, mandates that school district employees disclose a student’s transgender or gender-nonconforming status to their parents or guardians, regardless of the student’s wishes. It also requires staff members to notify parents whenever a student requests access to sex-segregated school programs and activities, such as joining a sports team or using a different bathroom.

The lawsuit highlights the potential harm of school policies that ignore transgender rights by outing a student against their wishes and considers this action an affront to legal protections for transgender students. It describes how the principal of one school in the district would call the students out of class, inform them of the upcoming meeting with their parents, and attempt to persuade them to disclaim their gender identity. This process makes the student vulnerable and can have destructive outcomes for families.

The lawsuit also raises concerns about the impossible choice that teachers and administrators face. They are forced to decide between outing a student and possibly exposing them to harm or facing disciplinary action or even job loss for not complying with the policy. This burdens educators unfairly and compromises the safety and well-being of transgender and gender-nonconforming students.

The Chino Valley School District officials argue that their parent notification policy does protect transgender students and takes their safety extremely seriously. They point out that the policy does not endanger students because school personnel are already required to notify Child Protective Services or law enforcement if they believe a student is in danger or has been abused or neglected due to their parent or guardian knowing their preferred gender identity. The idea behind this policy is parents’ rights and the belief that parents should have the right to know what their child is doing and saying in school.

While it is understandable that parents would want to know if their child is exhibiting new behaviors, it is essential to recognize the difference when a student shares something with a teacher or school personnel in confidence, explicitly asking them not to tell their parents out of fear of retribution. Forcing a teacher to out a student can put them in a precarious position, potentially risking their job or setting the child up for harm. It is also important to consider that the child may be aware that reporting a fear of being harmed could jeopardize their family. 

After seeing what happened in the Chino Valley School District, the Orange Unified School District slightly amended and passed its own forced outing policy. Instead of a teacher reporting to a parent, Orange’s policy refers the student to a school counselor or psychologist (Why? to determine if there might be something psychologically wrong with the child? The article didn’t explain why a counselor was used to determine if further action is required)  If the student identifies with a gender that does not align with the gender assigned at birth, the school principal would then notify the student’s parents within five days unless there is a reason to believe that doing so would harm the student or if the student is 12 years of age and older and does not consent to the disclosure.

This issue of mandatory outings raises difficult questions. For example, what should school personnel do if a child expresses a fear of physical or mental abuse if their parents are notified? Should the school personnel tell their parents, knowing they are mandated reporters and have a duty to report any suspicion or fear of abuse to the authorities? If a teacher “outs” a student to their parents and harm comes to the child as a result, is the administration responsible for any injuries? It is also difficult for teachers to determine if a child is telling the truth about their parents, as kids often stretch the truth.

Furthermore, what if a parent knows that their child is transgender? Should they have to inform the school? Can parents request that their child use their preferred pronouns and names, use bathrooms, and participate in activities that align with their gender identity? After all, the assumption is that parents know what is best for their children. 

Should the school have to publish a report so teachers know which students are already outed and whether it is okay to use their preferred name and pronouns? This could potentially lead to differential treatment for students whose parents know they are transgender versus students who are afraid to tell their parents.

In a perfect world, children and parents would have open lines of communication, and parents would accept their children’s preferences and have discussions with them. However, there are certain groups whose religious beliefs or personal ideals view identifying with a gender different from one’s birth as an abomination or illness that needs curing.  For these parents, no amount of talking or science will convince them to accept their child’s choices. The fact that a student would specifically confide a gender preference to a teacher and NOT their parent and ask for secrecy sends up a red flag. Children may feel they have no place to be themselves except at school, where their parents are not. 

In conclusion, the parent notification policy for transgender students is a complex issue that raises important questions about parental rights, student privacy, and the responsibility of schools to create inclusive education and safe environments for all students. It is crucial to prioritize the well-being and rights of transgender and gender-nonconforming students while also considering the concerns and perspectives of parents and educators. Finding a balance that respects the rights and identities of all individuals involved is essential in creating a supportive and inclusive educational environment.  And unfortunately, it is becoming a difficult place to find a compromise.

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