California Dems Unveil Bill To Keep Gender Transitions Secret From Parents—As State School Districts Lose Court Battles Over the Same Policy

Gavin Newsom (Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)
May 24, 2024

School policies that require teachers to hide gender transitions from parents have prompted two California districts to pay out six-figure settlements. Now, Democrats are proposing a bill that would codify the policy statewide.

Legislation unveiled Wednesday would make it illegal for teachers or staff to tell parents if their child is being transitioned at school while also prohibiting any discipline of teachers who may have helped the gender transition. The bill is backed by the public schools chief Tony Thurmond—a 2026 gubernatorial candidate who has made promoting gender ideology a priority even as California students lag behind in reading and math—and influential lawmakers, including the chairman of the State Assembly's education committee. It's on an expedited timeline and could pass in the next month.

Critics see it as an attempt to salvage the state's informal guidance that schools should support transitioning kids in secret, which California's Democratic attorney general himself has acknowledged he cannot enforce even though he has sued a district for defying its tenets. The proposal comes as parents and teachers objecting to the policy notch court wins and six-figure settlements against the school districts that have adopted California's position.

As "Democrats lose faith in Attorney General [Rob] Bonta's legal crusade against parental rights, they are pushing unconstitutional legislation that will allow schools to socially transition students in secret," California GOP assemblyman Bill Essayli said in a statement.

Secret gender transitions have become a losing proposition for California schools both legally and financially. They have yet to be enshrined as law in any state—because, experts say, they're likely to be struck down as unconstitutional. While California's own stance on the issue went unnoticed for years, a rapid increase in the number of kids identifying as transgender, coinciding with California's widespread shuttering of classrooms for COVID-19, caught the attention of parents who learned their children were presenting as the opposite sex at school without their  knowledge or consent.

In 2022, a single mother near Monterey became the first California parent to sue her district for swaying her 11-year-old daughter into believing she was a boy. Leaked audio from the California Teachers Association conference captured two of the daughter's teachers discussing how they "stalked" students' web searches to recruit members for a secret transgender club. The mother landed a $100,000 settlement against the district last year, and two teachers, the IT specialist husband of one of those teachers, and the principal all lost their jobs.

While a similar case filed by another California mother against the Chico Unified School District was dismissed in its first round by a federal district judge, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed the case earlier this month and appeared sympathetic to the mother's claims.

Also this month, a physical education teacher in Southern California won a $360,000 settlement against her school district, which had fired her after she said she wouldn't let boys in girls' locker rooms and bathrooms and wouldn't hide a student's gender identity from parents.

Two teachers from the San Diego area, who had been placed on leave for refusing to comply with their district's gender secrecy policies, were reinstated by order of a federal judge who ruled that administrators needed to exempt them from its rules. That same judge is weighing whether to bring Bonta and Gov. Gavin Newsom (D.) into the lawsuit.

And two school districts that have defied state guidance and passed policies to alert parents about their children's gender confusion also have cases moving through state courts. One of these districts has been allowed to keep its parental notification rules in an initial ruling, while the second—which is being sued by Bonta—has had to modify its rules.

Sarah Parshall Perry, a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation who tracks school gender policies across the country, said if the bill passes, it would give parents and teachers "the injury sufficient for standing, and a lawsuit against the state."

Colorado this year became the first state to try to establish top-down rules for schools to socially transition kids. Democratic lawmakers watered down the legislation, which was signed late last month by Gov. Jared Polis (D.). The final version deems it discrimination to call a gender-confused student by his or her given name and doesn't mention keeping secrets from parents.