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Bills introduced in response to Chico Unified gender identity controversy

Parents gather outside Chico Unified School district headquarters Wednesday.{ } (KRCR){p}{/p}
Parents gather outside Chico Unified School district headquarters Wednesday. (KRCR)

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The ongoing legal battle between a Chico Unified mother and the school district is sparking new legislation at the state and federal levels.

Congressman Doug LaMalfa (R-Richvale) is introducing H.R. 1585, the Prohibiting Parental Secrecy Policies in Schools Act of 2023. Under the measure, schools that get funding under Title II of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act would be prevented from using pronouns inconsistent with a child’s biological sex without consent from a parent first. They’d also be prohibited doing anything to help a child take on a different gender identity.

"The legislation is just about stopping the secrecy and having a full interaction with parents," LaMalfa said.

The bill follows a lawsuit from Aurora Regino. The Chico Unified mother says the district allegedly helped her fifth-grade daughter transition socially at school without informing her.

"When Aurora contacted us, we knew we had to help take action and look at legislation that would tell the schools, ‘look, you’re not gonna get away with just doing this even though there’s a liberal policy coming out of Sacramento that pushes this.’"

Regino said she wants the LGBTQ community to feel supported but doesn't agree with what she says is the district keeping "secrets." She says her then 11-year-old daughter told a Sierra View Elementary School counselor she “felt like a boy” and was given a boy's name and identity the same day without her knowledge.

"If my daughter came to me and identified, still, as a male, I would continue to love her. But allowing schools to keep important information a secret from parents is not the answer," she said.

"She was very young and didn't understand what being transgender really meant and the obstacles of going through a transition," Regino adds.

Right now, state law (AB 1266) establishes protections for students based on gender identity and codifies their right to use facilities relevant to the gender that they identify with. Separate guidance from the California Department of Education (CDE) prohibits schools from notifying parents of a gender transition unless directed to do so by the student. The advice says in part “a transgender or gender nonconforming student may not express their gender identity openly in all contexts, including at home. Revealing a student's gender identity or expression to others may compromise the student's safety. "

The legislation is receiving backlash from LGBTQ advocates and Democratic state lawmakers who agree with the CDE guidance.

"All of these bills are attacks on trans kids and LGBTQ kids in general and are going to lead to violence against these kids and increased risk of suicide. To pass a law that a school would out these kids before they're ready to tell their parents, that is despicable," said state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco). "These kids will come out to their parents when they're ready to come out to their parents and it's none of anyone else's business when they decide to come out."

Wiener, who is openly gay, says the coming out process can be difficult for anyone regardless of their age.

"I came out when I was 20 years old," he said. "I had parents who were extremely pro-LGBTQ. I knew that my parents would be fine with it...It still took me six months to muster the courage to tell my parents."

The Stonewall Alliance Center of Chico says students might feel safer sharing certain information with adults who are not their parents.

"That doesn't mean that parents never find out but a lot of trauma happens when an individual loses agency or control over their choices," said Marin Hambley, advocacy and education coordinator with the Stonewall Alliance of Chico.

"It's absolutely important to provide as many opportunities for a student to maintain control over their choice, over their body and the school is following both California state law and best practice," Hambley said.

At the state level, two Republican state assembly members are pushing another measure on the heels of the lawsuit. The bill, authored by James Gallagher (R-Chico) and Bill Essayli (R-Riverside), would require schools to inform parents if their child begins to identify as a different gender at school. Under the measure, schools would have to notify parents within three days of becoming aware of the change within the student.

"If they're using different pronouns or different names with the child at school, if they’re using different bathrooms that they do notify the parents and engage the parents... Absent any evidence of any kind of abuse, you should always be involving the child's parent in their education and development," Gallagher said. "Schools are [not notifying parents] based on guidance they've gotten based on the Department of Education and others and it's just wrong. That's not the law and we think the law needs clarity now because of this."

AB 1314 is awaiting a vote in the Assembly Education Committee.


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