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gender identity policy
A judge has sided with two Rincon Middle School teachers who sued the district and state over its gender identity policy. Courtesy photo.

Judge sides with Escondido teachers over gender identity policy

ESCONDIDO — A federal judge has sided with two teachers at Rincon Middle School who sued over school district policies governing what information can be shared with parents of transgender and gender-nonconforming students.

U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez granted a preliminary injunction request prohibiting enforcement of policies that bar teachers from discussing students’ gender identities with their parents.

The lawsuit filed earlier this year on behalf of Elizabeth Mirabelli and Lori Ann West states teachers are required to use “any pronouns or a gender-specific name requested by the student during school, while reverting to biological pronouns and legal names when speaking with parents in order to actively hide information about their child’s gender identity from them.”

In his ruling issued Sept. 14, Benitez wrote, “A parent’s right to make decisions concerning the care, custody, control and medical care of their children is one of the oldest of the fundamental liberty interests that Americans enjoy. However, if a school student expresses words or actions during class that may be the first visible sign that the child is dealing with gender incongruity or possibly gender dysphoria, conditions that may (or may not) progress into significant, adverse, life-long social-emotional health consequences, would it be lawful for the school to require teachers to hide the event from the parents?”

“Our leadership team is currently reviewing the decision,” said Michelle Breier, spokesperson for the Escondido Union School District.

The lawsuit also named state education officials as defendants.

Transgender notification policies have been enacted by several Southern California school districts in recent months, drawing the ire of state officials and LGBTQ+ support groups, who say such policies could put children in danger if their parents are not receptive.

The California Department of Education says, “Revealing a student’s gender identity or expression to others may compromise the student’s safety. Thus, preserving a student’s privacy is of the utmost importance. The right of transgender students to keep their transgender status private is grounded in California’s anti-discrimination laws as well as federal and state laws. Disclosing that a student is transgender without the student’s permission may violate California’s anti-discrimination law by increasing the student’s vulnerability to harassment and may violate the student’s right to privacy.”

The teachers’ lawsuit alleged the district’s policy violated Mirabelli and West’s First Amendment rights to free speech and free exercise of religion.

Benitez agreed that the teachers’ religious beliefs were violated and wrote that students in that position would be harmed because they need “parental guidance and possibly mental health intervention to determine if the incongruence is organic or whether it is the result of bullying, peer pressure, or a fleeting impulse.’’

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