Calif. School District Discriminates against Whistleblower Teachers
A California school district is disregarding a court’s order in order to penalize teachers for blowing the whistle on a policy designed to deceive parents. According to a statement shared with The Washington Stand, attorneys with the Thomas More Society filed a request Wednesday on behalf of teachers Elizabeth Mirabelli and Lori Ann West asking a federal court in San Diego to hold officials with the Escondido Union School District (EUSD) and Rincon Middle School in contempt of court for ignoring the court’s prior injunction.
In April, Mirabelli and West filed a complaint against EUSD over the district’s new policy on treatment of students identifying as transgender. According to the complaint, the new policy demanded that teachers not only not inform parents of students’ social gender transition but outright lie to parents. The policy requires teachers to use “any pronouns or a gender-specific name requested by the student during school, while reverting to biological pronouns and legal names when speaking with parents in order to actively hide information about their child’s gender identity from them.” Both Mirabelli and West were granted a religious exemption from using students’ transitioned pronouns, but EUSD still required both to lie to parents.
The EUSD policy bars teachers from “revealing a student’s transgender status to individuals who do not have a
legitimate need for the information, without the student’s consent,” and declares that parents and legal guardians “do not have a legitimate need for the information.” The complaint explains:
“According to EUSD’s policies, all elementary and middle school teachers must unhesitatingly accept a child’s assertion of a transgender or gender diverse identity, and must ‘begin to treat the student immediately’ according to their asserted gender identity. ‘There’s no requirement for parent or caretaker agreement or even for knowledge.’ … There is absolutely no room for discussion, polite disagreement, or even questioning whether the child is sincere or acting on a whim. Once a child’s social transitioning has begun, EUSD elementary and middle school teachers must ensure that parents do not find out.”
Mirabelli and West petitioned the court for a preliminary injunction protecting them from “adverse employment action” should they violate the policy, while the court determines whether or not the policy is unconstitutional. Both teachers have been on administrative leave for over six months. According to the Thomas More Society, Mirabelli was placed on leave at her own request after being repeatedly harassed for challenging the policy, while West was placed on involuntary leave.
On September 14, Judge Roger Benitez of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California granted the preliminary injunction and barred EUSD and the middle school from “taking any adverse employment actions” against Mirabelli and West. The judge wrote, “A parent’s right to make decisions concerning the care, custody, control, and medical care of their children is one of the oldest of the fundamental liberty interests that Americans enjoy.” He continued:
“If a school student suffers a life-threatening concussion while playing soccer during a class on physical fitness, and the child expresses his feelings that he does not want his parents to find out, would it be lawful for the school to require its instructor to hide the event from the parents? Of course not. What if the child at school suffers a sexual assault, or expresses suicidal thoughts, or expresses aggressive and threatening thoughts or behavior? Would it be acceptable not to inform the parents? No. These would be serious medical conditions to which parents have a legal and federal constitutional right to be informed of and to direct decisions on medical treatment.
“… However, if a school student expresses words or actions during class that may be the first visible sign that the child is dealing with gender incongruity or possibly gender dysphoria, conditions that may (or may not) progress into significant, adverse, life-long social-emotional health consequences, would it be lawful for the school to require teachers to hide the event from the parents?”
Benitez concluded, “In their motion for preliminary injunction, plaintiffs claim their First Amendment rights to free speech and the free exercise of religion are being violated. Tangentially, plaintiffs claim that the federal constitutional rights of parents of school district students are being violated. As an initial impression, it would seem so.”
But a spokesman for the Thomas More Society informed The Washington Stand that both teachers have still been blocked from returning to work. In fact, an administrative complaint was lodged against West, following a complaint regarding the transgender policy. In a statement sent to TWS, Thomas More Society Special Counsel Paul Jonna said, “The school district can investigate all it wants, but it cannot use frivolous, serial complaints as an end-run around the Court’s order.” He added, “Mirabelli and … West have been vilified, harassed, and targeted since they spoke up for the rights of parents, students, and teachers. … Rather than protecting their employees, EUSD has done nothing to ensure their safety and has turned a blind eye to the threats and discrimination targeting them.”
Meg Kilgannon, senior fellow for Education Studies at Family Research Council, told TWS, “Part of reforming education in America is going to require the cooperation of those within the system, who can directly impact situations for the benefit of children and families. Teachers like these whistleblowers deserve our thanks and the protections a free society affords those who tell difficult truths.” She added, “The public has never been more aware that light is the best disinfectant and messages that people in power don’t want to hear or have said are the very messages that need the most amplification, especially where children are concerned.”
This comes as California officials have penalized and targeted teachers and school districts across the state for enforcing or supporting parental notification policies. For example, California Attorney General Rob Bonta (D) sued the Chino Valley Unified School District this summer, alleging that the school district’s policy requiring faculty and staff to notify parents of students’ attempted gender transitions is a civil rights violation. A study published this year by Parents Defending Education found that over 1,000 school districts representing nearly 11 million students kept students’ social gender transitions a secret from parents — the vast majority of those school districts (593) are in California.
However, support for parental notification policies has been growing in California and across the U.S. Parents gathered in the California capital of Sacramento over the summer to protest bills threatening parental rights, ahead of launching a series of ballot initiatives to protect those rights, including parental notification. A poll released last month found that a majority (66%) of Americans across the political spectrum support parental notification policies in schools — and a poll conducted in the blue state of New Jersey found that a majority (61%) of Democrats support parental notification.
S.A. McCarthy serves as a news writer at The Washington Stand.