Parents, Teachers Start Winning Court Battles Against Gender Transition Policies

A revolt against government policies that many say usurp parental authority is spreading across the nation—especially in blue states where lawmakers have promoted transgender ideology and “gender-affirming care”—according to parents, attorneys, and teachers.

For more than a year, California parents have shown up in droves at legislative hearings and phoned in by the hundreds to protest policies that encourage schools to keep social gender transitions of children secret. Teachers also have begun to refuse to hide information about a child’s gender identity from parents.

Meanwhile, Democratic members of the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus have spearheaded legislation supporting so-called gender-affirming care, especially for children, touting it as a “first-in-the-nation” model.

Parental rights groups such as Our Duty have pushed back against the model, while groups such as Planned Parenthood, Equality California, and others support it.

California school districts claim that they’re required by law to keep gender transitions secret from parents unless a child wants to tell his or her parents. But recent court rulings tell a different story.

Landmark Case

A federal judge on Sept. 14 blocked California’s Escondido Union School District from punishing two teachers who refused to comply with guidance issued by the California Department of Education that encourages educators to keep gender transitions of students secret from their parents.

(L–R) Teacher Lori Ann West, attorney Paul Jonna, and teacher Elizabeth Mirabelli. A federal judge on Sept. 14 blocked a school district in Escondido, Calif., from punishing the two teachers for refusing to keep gender transitions of students secret from their parents. (Courtesy of Paul Jonna)
Judge Roger T. Benitez granted a preliminary injunction (pdf) against the state and the Escondido Union School District, stating the policy is unconstitutional.

The teachers, Elizabeth Mirabelli and Lori Ann West claimed the state and district violated their constitutional and religious rights. They were both placed on paid administrative leave after their lawsuit was filed in April but are negotiating with the district to get back to work in the classroom.

The teachers told The Epoch Times that gender transitions among girls at their middle school are a “social experiment” that has become a social contagion.
When the girls go to the school counselors, they get “so much praise and affirming” and are celebrated as “brave” and “honest,” Ms. West said.

“It’s only girls at our school. They eat it up. They get so much attention. They see one kid gets this, and they kind of follow along. It’s infecting them. It’s spreading.”

Until recently, it was rare to have even one child identify as transgender, but it’s becoming much more common, Ms. West said.

“I had seven girls in one class that wanted to be trans all of a sudden,” she said.

Ms. Mirabelli said gender transitions are “trending” in California public schools.

“Schools are now the social engineer,” she said. “They’re socially transitioning children, and as they move through the social transition, the next level is, of course, the medical transition.

California State Superintendent of Schools Tony Thurmond reads from a book in the LGBTQ+ genre to students at Nystrom Elementary School in Richmond, Calif., on May 17, 2022. Thousands of LGBTQ+ books from Gender Nation were donated to 234 elementary schools in nine California districts. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

“We can’t just stand by while all this is going on.

“I had a trans kid in my class. This kid was a fantastic student, one of my favorites—worked hard, got good grades, and was well-behaved. We had a great relationship. I knew that little girl was not a boy, and in the not-too-distant future, she looked in the mirror and said, ‘Hey, I’m pretty. Wait a minute.”

Ms. Mirabelli said she wants no part of putting children on a “conveyor belt” toward puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and eventually surgical transitions that they might regret later in life.

“These kids are 10, 11, and 12 years old. They’re in the throes of adolescence. We’ve been teaching adolescent children for decades. We’ve seen it all. We know that they go through a lot,” she said.

To get to the bottom of why gender transitions are trending, she said, “Follow the money.”

The so-called sex reassignment surgery market reached $2.1 billion last year in the United States and is expected to more than double to $5 billion by 2030, according to a 2022 report by business consulting firm Grand View Research. More research released by Acute Market Reports indicates that North America holds at least half of the global market share for so-called sex reassignment surgeries.
According to the Gender Mapping Project, there were only “a handful” of gender clinics for children operating in North America a decade ago, but there are now more than 400 involved in what has become a multibillion-dollar industry, even as parts of Europe move away from the “affirmative care” model.

A girl undergoes a transgender medical procedure, in a still from the documentary “Gender Transformation.” (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)
A girl undergoes a transgender medical procedure in a still from the documentary “Gender Transformation.”

‘Required’ Guidance’

Paul Jonna, a Thomas More Society attorney representing the teachers, told The Epoch Times that the ruling in favor of the teachers is significant.

“This ruling could really set the framework for how this issue should be analyzed, not just in California, but everywhere,” he said.

The state issued “very misleading” guidance in the form of an FAQ page to every school district in the state asserting that parental exclusion is required by California law under privacy rights for children and that it was required to keep students safe, he said.

“They said it was nonbinding guidance, but they used words like ‘required’ and ‘must,’ and basically every school district interpreted it as binding,” Mr. Jonna said. “The [district] was convinced it was binding and said so at the hearing … but in fact, this was not mandatory.”

The judge, he said, was deeply troubled over inconsistent positions that the state has taken and grilled state attorneys in the four-hour hearing on whether the policy was backed by law or not?”

Eventually, state attorneys agreed that the policy isn’t binding and doesn’t compel school districts to enact the rule.

“The statist notion that governmental power should supersede parental authority in all cases because some parents abuse and neglect children is repugnant to American tradition,” Judge Benitez said, quoting the 1979 Supreme Court case Parham v. J.R.

He added: “Isn’t that precisely what your rules do? … It basically says that all parents are presumed to be the enemy if the child simply says, ‘I don’t want my parents to know.’”

The judge asked why parents, who are ultimately legally responsible for the care and nurturing of their children, are “cut out.”

“The school district has the kids for what, six hours a day?” the judge asked.

When a state attorney responded, “six or seven,” Benitez said: “Tell me how that makes sense to have a child run around seven hours a day pretending to be ‘X’ and then spending the other 18 hours a day pretending to be ‘Y,’ and then on the weekends, 24 hours a day being ‘Y.’ How can that possibly be healthy for a child? How in the world can that not be detrimental for a child?”

Mr. Jonna is confident that even if the school district or the state appeals the ruling, that “reason will eventually prevail,” and the case will set a legal precedent.

“The order doesn’t encompass every school district, but it puts every school district on notice that these are unlawful policies,” Mr. Jonna said. “If we ultimately are able to establish that this is an unlawful act to Escondido Union School District, then it is going to be unlawful for every school district.”

Students prepare for the first day of classes at a Middle School in Orange, Calif., on Aug. 16, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Opponents of parental notification policies often cite Assembly Bill 1266, the School Success and Opportunity Act, a 2014 California law that supports student privacy rights over parental authority for children older than 12. The law says transgender students must be permitted to participate in sex-segregated school programs and activities and use facilities consistent with their gender identity, without regard to their biological sex. However, it says nothing about keeping gender transitions secret from parents.

Neither Mark Olson, the Escondido Union School District president, nor the California Department of Education responded to requests for comment.

Chino Valley Case

Referring to California’s lawsuit against Chino Valley Unified School District over its recently adopted policy that requires school staff to notify parents if their child changes his or her gender identity at school, Mr. Jonna said state officials are making conflicting statements.

“They’re actually suing a school district that dares to deviate from this so-called nonbinding guidance,” he said.

At least seven California school districts have now adopted parental notification policies that stem from legislation proposed by Assemblyman Bill Essayli (R-Corona) that was killed when Assembly Education Committee Chairman Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance) refused to allow it to be heard. Mr. Muratsuchi said, “Not only because the bill is proposing bad policy, but also because a hearing would potentially provide a forum for increasingly hateful rhetoric targeting LGBTQ youth.”

Assembly Bill 1314 would have required a teacher, counselor, or school employee to notify a parent within three days of becoming aware that a student was identifying at school as a gender not aligning with the child’s sex on his or her birth certificate or the sex assigned at birth.

Mr. Essayli has since attended several parental rights rallies encouraging California’s nearly 1,000 school boards to pass parental notification policies.

(Left) Around 200 parental rights demonstrators marched through downtown Los Angeles to protest against secret gender transitions in California public schools on Aug. 22, 2023. (Right) Parents, community members, and activists gather at a Glendale Unified School board meeting to protest against district policies on LGBT content in schools in Glendale, Calif., on June 20, 2023. (Courtesy of Hasmik Bezirdzhyan)

Mark Trammell, an attorney and executive director of the Center for American Liberty, told The Epoch Times that the center is now representing a group of parents who seek to intervene in the state’s case against Chino Valley. Earlier this month, the state was granted a temporary restraining order to halt enforcement of the district’s parental notification policy, which has been in place since the beginning of the school year.

“There will be a hearing on that in October, and we are getting involved in that,” Mr. Trammell said. “Our perspective is that parents, under this well-settled constitutional precedent, have a fundamental right to direct the upbringing of their children, and that includes educational decisions.”

In a joint statement, the parents said they oppose state policies against parental notification policies because it infringes on their rights and isolates children from the support they need.

Parental rights are violated “when you see schools keeping secrets from parents or schools lying to parents about what’s going on in the classroom,” Mr. Trammell said.

Spreckels School District

Another California school district was sued after teachers and staff allegedly coached an 11-year-old girl to socially transition to a male gender identity, and it recently settled with Alicia Konen, now 16, and her mother, Jessica Konen, for $100,000.

The lawsuit, filed on June 14, 2022, named Spreckels Union School District, the principal, and two teachers at Buena Vista Middle School in Salinas, California, as defendants.

Jessica Konen stepped forward after a leaked audio recording from a California Teachers Association weekend conference in Palm Springs in October 2021 revealed the teachers describing how they secretly recruited students into the school’s LGBT club. The two teachers were later suspended and no longer work in the district.
Jessica Konen (R) and her daughter, Alicia, will get a $100,000 settlement in a landmark case against Spreckels Union School District in Salinas, Calif. (Courtesy of Jessica Konen)

According to the Center for American Liberty and allegations in the lawsuit, Alicia was recruited to join an “Equality Club,” in which she was taught about bisexuality, transgender identities, and other LGBT concepts when she was in the sixth grade. She began to use a male name and pronouns and wore a chest binder under boys’ clothes.

Eric Sell, a civil rights attorney at the Center for American Liberty who represented the Konens, told The Epoch Times that the school district settled the case based on the underlying allegations in the lawsuit but hasn’t admitted any fault or liability.

Ms. Konen called the settlement a “massive victory” for herself, her daughter, and for other parents.

“Our voices made a difference,” she told The Epoch Times.

The case was the first of its kind nationally, but now similar cases are emerging across the United States, Mr. Trammell said.

“We’re really proud of that win,” he said.

Because it’s a settlement in a civil case—not a precedent-setting verdict in a criminal court—it won’t be cited in future court cases, but it will serve as a deterrent to other school districts, he said.

Mr. Trammell also cited the case of Aurora Regino, a mother in Chico, California, who sued the Chico Unified School District because “her daughter’s school started transitioning her … without parental knowledge” when the girl was in the fifth grade.

“[These cases] really opened parents’ eyes,” he said. “They didn’t know this was happening. These policies, especially in California, are guidelines from the California Teachers Association that school districts are adopting and parents aren’t notified.”

The increase in litigation is both a result of parents stepping forward and a reflection of the political shift in power at some school boards in 2022 when more parents were elected.

Referring to several legislative bills now waiting on California Gov. Gavin Newsom to either sign into law or veto, Mr. Trammell warned that civil liberties—including parental rights, free speech, and religious freedom—are at stake.

If the government can restrict people of faith or those who don’t believe in transgenderism from being foster parents or adopting children or compel family court judges to favor a “gender-affirming” parent in a child custody dispute, “what’s keeping that government in the future from then taking away custody rights of your biological child or your adopted child?” Mr. Trammell asked.

“It’s scary,” he said. “We all saw the legislation that’s sitting on Newsom’s desk, but it’s really frightening to think about the next legislative session and what those bills will look like.”

With the rising number of lawsuits against secret gender transitions and the increasing demand for parental notification policies, Mr. Trammell said “there is a good chance” the U.S. Supreme Court could ultimately decide the issue.

More Lawsuits

The Center for American Liberty has also taken legal action against doctors and medical facilities for surgically amputating the healthy breasts of at least three underage girls: Layla Jane at 13, Chloe Cole at 15, and Luka Hein at 16.

Ms. Hein joins a growing list of other “detransitioners,” as they’re known, who have spoken out, such as Cat Cattinson, Abel Garcia, Laura Becker, Daisy Strongin, and David Bacon, who deeply regret the irreparable harm done to their bodies.
On Sept. 13, the Center for American Liberty, attorney Jeff Downing, and the Thomas More Society filed a complaint (pdf) on Ms. Hein’s behalf against physicians at the University of Nebraska Medical Center for alleged medical malpractice. The doctors performed a double mastectomy on her allegedly after just two appointments “before exploring more extensive mental health treatment options or non-surgical transition treatments like hormone therapy,” according to a statement.

Throughout her teens, Ms. Hein endured mental health complications “such as anxiety, depression, and gender dysphoria as a result of various traumatic events,” according to a statement issued by the Center for American Liberty.

“I was going through the darkest and most chaotic time in my life, and instead of being given the help I needed, these doctors affirmed that chaos into reality,” Ms. Hein said in a statement.

Mr. Downing, a Nebraska malpractice attorney, and the center are also bringing a tort claim on behalf of Ms. Hein against the Board of Regents at the University of Nebraska.

In mid-August, New Jersey Superior Court Judge David F. Bauman granted a preliminary injunction temporarily blocking three Monmouth County school districts—Manalapan-Englishtown, Marlboro, and Middletown—from enforcing parent notification policies regarding transgender-identifying students while the case is still pending in the courts.

New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin filed a complaint against the school districts in June, claiming that the policies are “unlawful.”

While Mr. Bauman acknowledged parental rights in his ruling, he said the state also has the right to prevent harm to children who belong to protected groups under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.

“The statistical possibility that even one transgender student affected by the Amended Policies should run away from home, or attempt or commit suicide, is sufficient to tip the balance of equities in favor of the State,” Mr. Bauman wrote in the court order.

In Massachusetts, four parents have sued the Ludlow School Committee and several school officials, claiming that their parental rights were violated over policies that allow schools to keep children’s changes in gender identities hidden from parents.

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