A California school district being sued for allegedly violating parental rights by transitioning an 11-year-old's gender in secret is facing the wrath of local parents, who this week demanded transparency and for school officials not to keep them in the dark on matters of importance to their children's' lives.
Seats were full at this week's Board of Education meeting of the Chico Unified School District in northern California, where a major point of debate was what critics have named the district's so-called "Parental Secret Policy."
Under the policy, which is based on guidance from the California Department of Education, the district's 23 schools only inform parents of their child pursuing or considering a gender transition with the student's prior written consent, except for extraordinary situations. Proponents argue the policy is meant to protect students' privacy.
Last month, local mother Aurora Regino filed a lawsuit against the district — specifically Superintendent Kelly Staley and the Board of Education's five members — alleging her daughter's school was helping the young student transition her gender in secret without parental consent during the 2021-2022 school year.
"They were talking to my daughter about different support groups in town to help her with her transition and then discussed breast binding with my daughter that I had no knowledge of," Regino told Fox News' Claudia Cowan on "America's Newsroom" last week. "I just want them to stop — stop keeping parents in the dark."
The alleged clandestine transitioning began after the daughter, a fifth-grader at the time, told a school counselor that she "felt like a boy," according to the complaint filed by Regino's attorneys. Regino has said her daughter, who now again identifies as a female, was given a boy name and identity by the counselor without her knowledge.
At Wednesday's meeting, parents echoed Region's anger in what was at times a testy gathering.
"I'm here speaking on behalf of parental rights," said one local parent named Michelle. "Schools, teachers, counselors, and staff do not have the right to keep families in the dark as to what is going on with their child. Parents' rights are fundamental and supreme. Schools need to support the family unit, not try and replace it … These are our children, not yours. We know what's best for them, not you."
Another Chico parent named Taylor argued that confusion over gender is too complex an issue to leave up to a child and their school counselor.
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"It is not in our children's best interest to confuse them about topics that are beyond their mental capacity to grasp and to furthermore encourage our vulnerable and impressionable children to reconsider their gender behind their parents' backs," she told the Board of Education. "We entrust our students to your hands, and we would like to know that we could be kept in the loop about our children's wellbeing. Transparency is key in these formative years."
Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif., whose congressional district includes Chico, also made his voice heard on the matter.
"The parents of Chico Unified School District are rightfully and understandably outraged at the unconscionable behavior of the school district," said LaMalfa's district representative, Teri DuBose. "Know that the congressman shares your outrage and demands accountability from Chico Unified School District. It is detestable that a public school system would think that it's acceptable to pressure an impressionable child to change their gender, their name, and their pronouns and make them hide it from their parents. As a fellow parent, the congressman understands that it is our God-given duty to protect our children, and a big part of that is being involved in children's education and demanding transparency from school administrators and educators."
The school policy in question stems from California state law designed to protect transgender students from discrimination. Based on these measures, the California Department of Education issued an interpretation of the law to schools that, according to Chico school district attorney Paul Gant, isn't legally binding but still treated with a degree of "weight" by courts.
The department's guidance calls for schools to require a student's consent in order to inform parents about gender transitions unless there exist "compelling circumstances related to student health and safety" to waive the consent requirements. Controversially, the guidance doesn't state any minimum age, meaning in theory schools wouldn't need to inform parents if a kindergartener sought to transition their gender.
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Regino's lawsuit, filed in federal court, argues the Chico Unified School District's policy violates her "fundamental right" as a parent to direct the upbringing of her children as protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteen Amendment. The complaint seeks a judgment declaring the district's policy unconstitutional and an injunction preventing the district from continuing to enforce its policy.
One day before the school board meeting, the district filed its own motion requesting that the U.S. District Court for the Eastern district of California toss out Region's suit.
The school district "consistently works in partnership with parents and always seeks to keep them as informed as legally permitted in matters concerning the wellbeing of their children," the court filing states. "In this case and in others like it, however, there are legal limitations on what information can be shared about a student, including with the student's family."
Region's suit is "not premised on existing law," according to the district. " Rather, the motion is based on speculative future harm to an undisclosed group of individuals and lacks foundation as to the existence of a need for unrecognized constitutional protection. To date, prevailing federal authority holds that children have a recognized privacy interest in both their sexual orientation and gender identification."
During Wednesday's hearings, while most public comments came from parents opposing the district's policy, some speakers supported not informing parents.
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One such speaker, Christine Leistner, a sexual health scientist and professor in the Department of Public Health and Health Services Administration at California State University, Chico, cited statistics showing LGBTQ youth have a lower rate of considering or attempting suicide when living in an accepting school and community.
On the same day of the school district's court filing, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a motion to intervene in the case and support the school district's position on behalf of the Gender and Sexualities Alliance Network.
Neither the ACLU nor the Chico Unified School District immediately responded to requests for comment for this story. However, the district issued a statement last month assuring the community that "Chico Unified does not have a 'Parent Secrecy Policy,' nor [does it] ever try to define a student's personal identity."
Regardless of the outcome of the suit, parental anger is likely not going away.
"Parents from all walks of life are justifiably upset by the district's Parental Secrecy Policy, and the meeting on Wednesday proves it," Eric Sell, who's representing Regino as associate counsel at the Center for American Liberty, told Fox News Digital. "Not only does the policy keep parents in the dark on matters of significant importance in their child's life, it also authorizes schools to secretly perform substandard psychological treatment on students struggling with their gender in the form of social transitioning."
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"Only parents and trained mental health professionals should guide such powerful treatment, not unqualified school staff," Sell continued. "We're hopeful the court will enjoin further enforcement of this dangerous policy pending the outcome of Aurora's case."
At the end of this week's school board meeting, the board voted to table any action over the district's gender identity policy until receiving "sufficient guidance from legal counsel."
The only board member to object was Matt Tennis, who spoke out against the policy in question.
"We've got unidentified people at the California Department of Education making mealy-mouthed statements that they want us to follow," said Tennis. "But the takeaway of it is that they want us to keep parents in the dark. I'm sure that I don't want to keep parents in the dark about gender transitions that may or may not be going on."
Tennis called for adding language to school district policy saying staff must inform a student's parents of any proposed or effective change to that student's gender identity or pronouns unless the student is at least 18 years old, a ward of the state, or "there exists a clear and compelling reason" not to share the information with parents.
The other four members overruled him, opting to wait on making any decisions.