ESCONDIDO — A North County-based charter school organization has swapped out a policy requiring privacy for transgender and gender non-conforming students for one that requires staff to inform parents of changes to student names and pronouns in school records.
The Classical Academies, a public charter school organization that serves more than 5,000 students on several campuses between Oceanside, Escondido and Vista, first adopted its old policy requiring teachers to keep mum on their students’ gender identities four years ago. This policy was implemented following guidance from the California Department of Education.
In late October, a board majority approved a new policy requiring staff to automatically notify the parents of minors who request name or pronoun changes in their official or unofficial records after a local constitutional attorney threatened legal action against the school.
The move followed a recent court case in which a federal judge sided with two teachers in the Escondido Union School District, granting a preliminary injunction prohibiting enforcement of policies barring teachers from discussing students’ gender identities with their parents.
“After reviewing the preliminary injunctions issued in recent cases against Chino Valley Unified School District and Escondido Union School District, it was clear that our policy was very similar to the one enjoined by the federal court in the Escondido case,” said Classical Academies CEO Cameron Curry via email. “This made keeping the old policy language untenable.”
Curry noted that although the constitutional attorney asked Classical to adopt a policy like Chino Valley’s, the board did not do so.
The attorney, Dean Broyles, is president of the National Center for Law and Policy, which focuses on religious rights and is affiliated with the conservative Christian organization, Alliance Defending Freedom, which helped overturn Roe v. Wade and has pushed back against gender identity discrimination laws.
Earlier this year, California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced a lawsuit to immediately halt the enforcement of Chino Valley’s mandatory gender identity disclosure policy, which requires schools to inform parents with few exceptions whenever a student requests to use a name or pronoun different from their birth certificate or official records without the student’s permission.
The policy also requires parent notification if a student uses school restrooms or locker rooms or participates in programs that don’t align with their sex on official records.
Last month, a judge temporarily blocked Chino Valley’s new policy as it discriminates against students based on their gender identity.
“Classical carefully studied the results of the court cases with Chino Valley Unified School District and Escondido Union School District and came up with a different policy that avoids the constitutional problems found with both of these District’s policies,” Curry said. “Our policy simply requires contact with parents when any student has an issue that is threatening their health, safety or wellbeing.”
The new policy also allows teachers to “fulfill their duties as mandated reporters,” who will involve a student’s parents or guardians when necessary “as otherwise provided under state and federal law.”
“Unless there is reason to believe that disclosure to the parent or guardian may subject the student to harm, in which case administration shall develop an individual plan that, on balance, protects the interests of the student and results in communications to the student’s parents or guardians that consider and are sensitive to any concerns regarding disclosure to the student’s parents,” the new policy states.
According to Classical, the organization was unable to locate a statute or judicial interpretation of the California or federal constitutions that require student gender identity information to be kept from parents. Therefore, the policy applies to all students with no exceptions based on gender, gender expression, or identity.
Curry said all requirements contained in state law will be honored, noting that the new policy does not prohibit the use of preferred names and pronouns or gender support plans.
“It is outlandish on its face that anyone would believe or state that The Classical Academies is attempting to remove protections contained in state law,” he said. “If anything, our policy strengthens support for students under the banner of professional counseling standards already in place and education for the team on the policy, the implications of the policy, and the practice our team members will follow around the policy.”
Curry said the conversations between counselors and students will remain private; however, those counselors and teachers “will inform a chain of command at their school site to ensure that leaders are informed, and when necessary, based on the judgment of the professionals on our team, a parent or guardian will be involved.”
In a statement from the North County LGBTQ Resource Center, Executive Director Max Disposti called the new policy a “forced outing” policy.
“The Classical Academy has caved into the request of a few anti-LGBTQI community members with their legal representation to force the change of policy from being LGBTQI-inclusive to an ambiguous and dangerous policy that is now open to interpretation,” Disposti said.
Disposti said the school is chartered through Oceanside Unified School District, which affirms California laws on privacy and protections for LGBTQI students and has policies in place that are antithetical to Classical’s new policy.
Headquartered in Escondido, Classical Academies also includes Coastal Academy Elementary and High Schools in Oceanside. While chartered locally, the organization is independent of other school districts, like OUSD.
“In short, while the Classical Academy is no longer a safe space for LGBTQI students, OUSD still remains one of the most LGBTQI-affirming districts in California,” Disposti said.
In 2022, OUSD was recognized as one of the state’s top supportive school districts for LGBTQ students.
Curry said he isn’t concerned with Disposti’s statements or “thoughts and feelings” from other organizations regarding the new policy, noting the school has always provided a learning environment “free from discrimination, hate, harm or bullying, while including parents in issues that relate to the health, safety and wellbeing of their children.”