The Orange Unified School District became the latest Southern California school district to consider a controversial policy that would require schools to notify parents if their child wishes to identify as transgender.
The policy appeared as a discussion item at the Aug. 17 board meeting, meaning the board trustees discussed it but took no formal action. A final vote on the item is set for Sept. 7.
The new rule requires schools to notify parents in writing within three days if their child identifies as transgender, is involved in violence, or shares thoughts of suicide, and is based on similar policies enacted recently passed by the Chino Valley Unified and Murrieta Unified school districts.
Under the policy, parents are also to be notified if their child requests to use names, pronouns, athletic programs, bathrooms, or locker rooms that don’t “align with the student’s biological sex or gender,” as well as any requests to change information in their school records. The California Department of Education requires school districts to keep such changes relating to students’ gender status from parents or guardians.
Both the seven-member board and the crowd of parents, teachers, and community members debated whether it was parents’ right to be notified or if the policy would put some students’ safety in danger.
Board president Rick Ledesma, who introduced the policy along with Trustee Madison Miner, said he brought the policy to Orange Unified because he believed “it’s important to clarify such issues with [parents] as soon as possible to reduce harm.”
Trustees Andrea Yamasaki, Kris Erickson, and Ana Page opposed the policy, arguing it may violate student privacy laws and could put students’ safety in jeopardy if their parents are unsupportive.
“In a perfect and ideal situation, it would be great for parents and children to have discussion and share their feelings. ... In fact, I highly encourage parents to be involved so they could do that, but that is not the reality,” Ms. Yamasaki said. “In developing policies, it’s important to consider that individual circumstances should dictate when students and their families discuss this matter.”
Community members in opposition to the policy agreed, saying the policy was well-intentioned but could lead to “unintended consequences.”
“Many LGBT youth fear rejection or hostility from their families, causing undue stress,” one parent said. “If a student is not comfortable speaking to their parent, there is probably a valid reason.”
Mr. Ledesma, who introduced the item, countered that students’ safety could also be at risk if parents are not notified.
Mr. Ledesma said he knew a child who identified as transgender who was afraid of telling her parents about her transgender identity and considering suicide. The child’s friends convinced her to tell her parents, and received support from her parents once she did share.
“This is all about perspective,” he said. “If the question is safety for a student over privacy, I choose safety. I am going to give my life in order to protect the students of this community. This is why I am in support of this policy.”
Ms. Miner agreed, saying that if the child’s home life is unsafe, then teachers as mandated reporters should have already reported the family to social services.
“Yes, there are dangerous situations, but teachers had to take mandated reporter training, and if there is an unsafe home, then you should be telling the authorities that that home is unsafe,” she said. “So if you’re saying you’re not outing a child because the home is unsafe, well then you should have already been reporting that situation to the authorities.”
Those who supported the policy said the matter should be between parents and children.
“We parents just want to hold our kids’ hands and walk down this road with our kids,” one parent said.
Another teacher said, “We do not get to preemptively or secretly parent other people’s kids because of what might happen in a home.”
New Permanent Superintendent AppointedDuring the meeting, board members also announced they unanimously voted in closed session—with Ms. Page absent—to appoint Acting Superintendent Ernie Gonzalez as the district’s permanent superintendent.
The board’s decision comes after months of division over district leadership—which began in early January when its conservative majority voted to fire its longtime superintendent Gunn Marie Hansen and place assistant superintendent Cathleen Corella on leave pending an academic audit. Ms. Hansen is currently serving as superintendent in the Westminster School District in Orange County.
Shortly after, Edward Velasquez, a retired educator who previously served as interim superintendent for San Diego Unified School District, was appointed in the same role by the Orange Unified board majority.
However, Mr. Velasquez—who previously said he expected to spend two months in the position—only held the position for a little over a month before he resigned in mid-February without providing a reason.
In early March, the board unanimously appointed Mr. Gonzalez, one of its existing assistant superintendents, as acting superintendent.