California Senate approves ban on requiring schools to notify parents of child's pronoun change

california senate approves ban on requiring schools to notify parents of child's pronoun change

The California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus announces legislation at a press conference on Wednesday, May 22, 2024, to ban school districts from forcing schools to notify parents if their child requests to change their gender identification in Sacramento, Calif. The California Senate has approved a bill, Thursday, June 13, that would ban school districts from forcing teachers to notify parents if their child asks to go by a new pronoun at school. (AP Photo/Sophie Austin)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — School districts in California would be barred from requiring teachers to notify parents if their child asks to go by a new pronoun at school under a bill the state Legislature is weighing amid legal battles over the rights of parents and gender-nonconforming students.

The state Senate approved the proposal Thursday, which would ban school districts from passing or enforcing policies requiring school staff to disclose a student's gender identity or sexual orientation to anyone else without the child's permission, with some exceptions. The goal is to protect students whose safety could be threatened if they live in unwelcoming households.

The issue is personal to Kai, a transgender man who recently graduated from high school within the Rocklin Unified School District near Sacramento and was treated for suicide attempts before coming out. He confided in a teacher “who had displayed her dedication and empathy toward all her students,” Kai said at a news conference last month.

“Having a trusted adult is paramount to ensuring a queer kid makes it to their next birthday,” he said. “If you care about kids, you’ll enact this legislation that will protect their well-being and protect their lives.”

Lawmakers approved the legislation along party lines after more than an hour of an emotional debate in which Democratic LGBTQ+ senators recounted stories about how they delayed coming out to their parents or were outed by someone else. They argued gender-noncomforming students should be able to come out to their families on their own terms. But Republican lawmakers said the state shouldn’t dictate whether school districts can enforce so-called parental notification policies and that schools have an obligation to be transparent with parents.

california senate approves ban on requiring schools to notify parents of child's pronoun change

Parents, students, and staff of Chino Valley Unified School District hold up flags and signs in favor of protecting The California Senate has approved a bill, Thursday, June 13, that would ban school districts from forcing teachers to notify parents if their child asks to go by a new pronoun at school. (Anjali Sharif-Paul/The Orange County Register via AP, File)

It is part of a nationwide debate over local school districts and the rights of parents and LGBTQ+ students. States across the country have sought to impose bans on gender-affirming care, bar trans athletes from girls and women’s sports, and require schools to “out” trans and nonbinary students to their parents. Some lawmakers in other states have introduced bills in their legislatures with broad language requiring that parents be notified of any changes to their child’s emotional health or well-being.

Republican state Sen. Kelly Seyarto, who represents Murrieta in Southern California, said schools should increase transparency with parents by notifying them of their child's gender identification change.

“If we include the parents, that's the best way to take something from people being angry and mad to developing a solution that works for everybody,” he said.

California officials shouldn’t prevent all parents from being notified because of the possibility that some parents may react badly, said Greg Burt, vice president of the California Family Council, a conservative Christian advocacy group.

“You don’t assume that all parents are unsafe,” Burt said. “That shouldn’t be the assumption.”

The bill now heads to the state Assembly, where it would need to pass in committees and on the floor before it can reach the desk of Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, whose administration has fought school boards over the notification policies.

The debate over the policies is playing out in court cases across the state.

In August, Attorney General Rob Bonta, a Democrat, sued the Chino Valley Unified School District over the district’s notification rule, arguing it discriminated against gender-nonconforming students. A judge tentatively blocked parts of the policy, and the district later updated the rule to apply more broadly to when a child requests any change to their student records.

But in a case involving the Escondido Union School District in Southern California, a judge tentatively ruled to prevent the district from reprimanding teachers for notifying parents about their child’s gender identification change.

State Sen. Caroline Menjivar, who is lesbian, said on the Senate floor Thursday that she was outed to her mother when Menjivar was 16 years old.

“I came home to literally all my things on the front lawn, because I was kicked out,” the Democrat representing the San Fernando Valley said. “That’s what happens when parents don’t accept queer kids.”

Menjivar then went back into the closet so that she could continue living at home, she said. She didn’t come out again to her mother until she was 25 years old. Her mother is still not accepting, Menjivar, now 35, said.

“There are many queer kids in California who have these stories,” she said.

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The headline of this story has been updated to make clear that the measure approved by the Senate is a ban on requiring schools to notify parents of a child’s pronoun change,

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Austin is a corps member for The Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Austin on the social platform X: @sophieadanna

Sophie Austin, The Associated Press

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