U.S. District Court Judge Roger Benitez has blocked the Escondido Union School District (EUSD) from enforcing a policy that conceals students’ gender identity or transition from their parents. The ruling by Judge Benitez will temporarily bar the school from imposing its policy of transition secrecy until litigation from a lawsuit filed by two district school teachers against the policy is adjudicated.
As illustrated in the order from Judge Benitez, teachers Elizabeth Mirabelli and Lori Ann West filed a lawsuit against EUSD board of education, staff, the California State Board of Education, and State Superintendent over the district’s policy of “school-wide recognition of a student’s newly expressed gender identification” while simultaneously maintaining “an enforced requirement of faculty confidentiality and non-disclosure regarding a student’s newly expressed gender identification” toward the student’s parents.
Under the temporarily-blocked policy, if a teacher were to disclose the student’s gender identity to their parents without prior consent, they would be “considered to have engaged in discriminatory harassment” and be “subject to adverse employment actions.”
Benitez minced no words in his deconstruction of the district’s policy. He first highlighted the expert opinion of a transgender clinical psychologist, Dr. Erica E. Anderson, who stated “to place teachers in the position of accepting without questions the preference of a minor and further direct such teachers to withhold the information from parents concerning their minor children is hugely problematic.” For Anderson, parents “have a unique view of the child’s development over time” and that, if an attempted social transition were concealed, “a school would drive a wedge between the parent and child.”
Benitez also noted the more obvious problem of concealing gender transitions from parents: “lack of maturity and an underdeveloped sense of responsibility are found in youth more often than in adults,” which “often result in impetuous and ill-considered actions and decisions.” As a result, “juveniles are more susceptible to negative influences and outside pressures, including peer pressure,” the judge said, implying that this includes being peer-pressured into changing one’s gender.
Judge Benitez concluded that “EUSD’s policies are in direct tension with the federal constitutional rights of parents to direct the upbringing and education of their children.” In particular, Benitez highlighted the Troxel v. Granville case which was heard by the United States Supreme Court in 2000, in which the court stated “the custodial parent has a constitutional right to determine, without undue influence by the state, how best to raise, nurture, and educate the child.”
Benitez ruled that the EUSD policy of hiding gender transitions “is as foreign to federal constitutional and statutory law as it is medically unwise.”
While his decision only grants a preliminary injunction against the policy, Judge Benitez’s methodical dismantling of schools’ transition secrecy may well prove to be a blueprint for future action against secretive gender policy in schools.