Ban on schools’ gender notification policies heads to Newsom. Will he sign it? 

California News Filler

By Carolyn Jones 
CalMatters Writer 

The battle over trans rights has mostly played out at school boards, but is now erupting in Sacramento as lawmakers seek to limit local authority on the issue.  

Following a raucous, emotional hearing last week in the Assembly, legislators sent a bill, Assembly Bill 1955, to Gov. Gavin Newsom that would stop school districts from notifying parents if a student starts using different pronouns or otherwise identifies as a gender other than what’s on school records.   

Newsom has 12 days from receiving a bill to decide whether to sign it, and in this case it’s not a given that he will. Although he’s been a strong supporter of LGBTQ rights since he’s been in politics, last year he vetoed a bill that would have required judges to consider parents’ acceptance of a child’s gender identity in custody disputes. He said he was uncomfortable singling out a specific group and feared it could lead to attempts to curtail the rights of vulnerable groups of people.  

And as Newsom increasingly plays to a national audience, he might inch more toward the center on controversial issues such as this. 

Dramatic scene on Assembly floor 

The scene last week on the Assembly floor is an indicator of how passionate people on both sides of the issue feel.  

Assembly Speaker Pro Tempore Jim Wood, a Democrat from Ukiah, repeatedly chastised Assemblyman Bill Essayli for speaking out of turn and off topic, at one point cutting off his microphone.  

Essayli, a Republican from Riverside, has been a vociferous opponent of this bill. A bill he proposed last year, AB 1314, would have done the opposite of the latest bill by requiring schools to notify parents of changes in a child’s gender identity. The bill never advanced from the Education Committee. 

At one point in last week’s hearing, several Democratic lawmakers had to restrain Assemblyman Corey Jackson, a Democrat from Moreno Valley, as he moved toward Essayli. Jackson is a co-sponsor of the bill and a member of the Legislature’s LGBTQ caucus. 

Another lawmaker, Assemblyman Evan Low, a Democrat from Cupertino, choked up as he recalled his own experience as a gay youth fearing his mother would disown him.     

“The thought that I could be outed at any time. Where would I go? What would I have done?” Low said during the hearing. “The fact is, I am shaking and reliving this nightmare every single time (this issue comes up). I hope our experiences are recognized. This is not a partisan issue. It’s about human dignity.” 

The bill passed 60-15. 

Chris Ward, the bill’s author, said he was relieved the matter is now before the governor. 

“The very personal decision for a student to come out should be on their own terms to whoever they choose to share that information with when they are ready. Teachers should not be the gender police,” said Ward, a Democrat from San Diego. “(This act) ensures that conversations about gender identity happen at home without interference from anyone outside of the family unit.” 

Hot-button issue in purple areas 

Ward’s bill comes on the heels of several California school boards enacting parental notification policies in the past year. Most of those policies are on hold or have been tweaked since the state sued to stop the policy at Chino Valley Unified, but the debate rages on, especially in “purple” areas of the state that are politically divided. 

A UCLA report last year found that students in purple communities were far more likely to make demeaning or hostile comments to LGBTQ classmates than students in blue communities, according to school principals surveyed for the report. 

It’s no accident that parental notification policies are surfacing in purple areas such as Chino, said UCLA education professor John Rogers, co-author of the report. 

“It’s absolutely a wedge issue. It speaks to the way conservative activists target purple areas to garner political advantage,” Rogers said. “Trans youth are the victims of a broader political battle.” 

Parental notification and other anti-LGBTQ policies have an impact that stretches far beyond the classroom, Rogers said. They can lead to a broader climate of hostility that leaves LGBTQ youth feeling unsafe at school and in the community, he said.  

Trans youth already face hurdles in school, with higher rates of absenteeism and lower graduation rates than their peers. They’re also more likely to be bullied, suffer from anxiety and depression and use drugs and alcohol, according to the Centers for Disease Control. 

California is right to “put a stake in the ground” on the issue, said Morgan Polikoff, an education professor at USC. He noted that red states such as Florida have dominated headlines with policies restricting the rights of LGBTQ young people. California can “lead the way” for left-leaning states, he said. 

“Will everyone like this law? Certainly not. Will it lead to conflict? There is no doubt,” Polikoff said. “But I am hopeful this will be good for the queer kids in California’s schools and will point the way toward similar efforts in other blue states.” 

If the bill becomes law, it should give schools some useful guidance on how to handle the issue, Polikoff said. It should also provide some uniformity and consistency on how schools should handle an issue that’s played out very differently in different parts of the state.   

“I think the idea of leaving policies like this up to individual schools or districts is a recipe for disaster,” Polikoff said. “I think in general this bill should make schools a safer place for LGBTQ kids.”  

Parents seek their rights over trans rights 

The bill’s passage has not daunted advocates of parental notification policies. Sonja Shaw, president of the Chino Valley Unified school board, said she will continue fighting for what she views as parents’ rights to be informed of their children’s gender identity. 

“We will not stand idly by while our rights are stripped away,” Shaw said. “The political cartel may have won this round, but they will not win the war. We will prevail.” 

The district altered its policy to comply with a preliminary court ruling that called the policy discriminatory. Before, the policy stated that parents must be notified if a child joins a sports team that doesn’t align with their gender on school records, changes their name or starts using different pronouns. The new policy requires parents to be notified if a child joins any sports team or deviates from any information on their records. 

The state has asked for a permanent injunction, arguing the district could still revert to the old policy in the future. A hearing is scheduled for August.  

In another blow to parental notification advocates, a proposed ballot measure that would have mandated parental notification at schools statewide failed to garner enough signatures and won’t be on the fall ballot.  

Jonathan Zachreson, a Roseville school board member who led the ballot measure campaign, said that despite the setbacks, the issue isn’t going away. He expects this latest bill to face litigation, and school boards to continue adapting their policies to stay within the law but still allow parents to be informed of their children’s gender identity. 

“This bill doesn’t clarify anything. And nothing prevents individual teachers from bringing the issue up with parents,” Zachreson said. “So the battle continues.” 

Related To This Story

Latest NEWS