The William S. Hart Union High School District governing board won’t be discussing a potential parent-notification policy at its next board meeting, a discussion a board member said he was requesting in response to a number of concerns from parents.
The agenda posted 5 p.m. Friday for Wednesday’s meeting had no mention of the discussion.
Board member Joe Messina requested the policy discussion during the board’s Oct. 18 meeting when the board was discussing future items for consideration.
He said he was surprised to not see it on the agenda after he made the request, because he had received dozens of requests from parents, which was one of the reasons why he wanted to see the discussion agendized.
Messina’s request during the meeting was to ask if the district could have a discussion about policy regarding the notification of parents if a student is having any mental health issues.
Ultimately, Hart district board President Bob Jensen gives final approval of the agenda. He was not immediately available Friday evening, nor was Hart district Superintendent Mike Kuhlman.
The topic has drawn controversy throughout the state due to a fundamental question it poses to parents and administrators, according to voices on both sides of the issue, which asks, “What is the role of schools in notification?”
Messina’s request also prompted multiple calls on social media for people to show up to Wednesday’s meeting.
Part of the controversy for some includes the specifics of some new policies in the half-dozen or so districts that have passed regulations about parent notification, which spell out certain scenarios in which parents must be notified.
A legal challenge filed on behalf of California Attorney General Rob Bonta claimed the policies are harmful to transgender and gender-nonconforming students and violative of their civil rights.
Messina said the community has the right to have a voice in the discussion and that it was time the school board addressed the topic.
“California Education Code … allows parents to put things on a local school board agenda,” he said Thursday in a phone interview. “So it’s one of the reasons I brought it up and said, ‘Look, the community and the parents have a right to input.’”
Kim Williams, a PFLAG of SCV board member and nationally board-certified therapist, has worked with same-sex couples’ families and the queer community — an umbrella term she uses to confer acceptance — for more than 20 years.
She had a problem with such policies, and she also felt the issue speaks to what is the role of educators and school, and what is the role of the family.
“Are we asking the schools, what, to parent our kids? Are we asking our schools to be kind of the gatekeepers of this information?” she asked rhetorically.
“What is the role here, and that kind of goes back to my original thought in question: If your child is not coming and speaking to you, you may want to ask yourself why,” she added.
She said her job as someone who works with teens struggling with these issues is not to put up walls between kids and their parents, but to help children have those conversations safely.
Messina said that families are facing a lot of new challenges that may not even have been thought of 30 years ago when some of the notification policies that are in place were written, and his goal was to support families.
It’s not about outing students, he said. For him, it’s about figuring out a way to offer help, he said.
“This stuff is serious. It’s real, and families have a right to know so they can support and get their kids the help they need,” he said.
“I can’t understand anybody who would not want to have a discussion and find a way to have support for the family and a child going through this,” he added. “I don’t understand it.”
When asked if there was any scenario where a policy might be appropriate to offer guidance or assistance on when parents should be notified, Williams said that was an “ongoing conversation.”
“If someone is in immediate harm, harm to self or others — that’s an emergency crisis,” she said adding there are steps spelled out and, for example, if the child is being abused at home, you wouldn’t send the child home to be abused, if that’s where the abuse is taking place.
And ultimately, school counselors are faced with those types of decisions regarding a child’s welfare, she said.
Then she posed a question that was part of the idea behind the legal challenge involved in the lawsuits around the policies:
“What if they come to you and say, ‘I already tried to talk to my parents about it and they sent me away all summer, and so now I’m back and I’m afraid, so I’m pretending to be somebody I’m not because they’ve told me if I do it again, they’re gonna kick me out,’” she said.
“It’s like you weigh your relationship and what is being presented to you, like we all would, like a doctor, like a nurse, a police officer. Anybody would. You look at the big picture and facts (surrounding a child’s circumstance), and say, ‘What do we need to do to keep you safe?’”
Messina said he wants to make sure families are a part of that conversation.
“They’re facing so much that we didn’t,” Messina said of today’s students, “and the family, the family unit, has to be the support unit and has to be their safe space. And if there’s a disconnect there, then maybe we can help bridge that.”
With legal questions lingering on the policy, it’s possible, but unlikely, based on past practices, the Hart district will set a policy before the issues are resolved.
The Orange Unified School District passed a policy in September, the sixth district in the state to do so, that would require school officials to notify parents if a student requests a change in pronouns or to use spaces designed for the opposite sex, according to an EdSource story.
On Oct. 19, a judge granted a preliminary junction halting a very similar policy from being enacted in Chino Valley Unified School District, which also prompted a lawsuit from Bonta, over claims the policies violated the civil rights of gender-nonconforming students.