California Justice Department Tells Court It Can't Force Schools To Transition Kids Behind Parents' Backs

(Scott Olson/Getty Images)
May 7, 2024

California's Justice Department acknowledged in federal court last week that it can't force schools to secretly transition kids to a different gender—even though the agency is trying to do just that.

A California deputy attorney general said in a hearing last Monday that the state public schools agency's guidance, which tells school districts and all staff and teachers to socially and psychologically transition gender-confused students behind parents' backs, is "nonenforceable."

"So there's no one on the state who's actually going to enforce those guidelines," Emmanuelle Soichet told a federal judge while arguing on behalf of state attorney general Rob Bonta (D.).

This concession comes after Bonta—who is expected to run for governor—has embraced lawfare to pressure schools into psychologically and socially transitioning California kids to different genders without their parents' knowledge. Last year, he sued a Southern California district over its policies to alert parents whose kids formally change gender. In January, he sent out a legal alert to all school districts and charter schools in the state claiming that parental notification rules violate the law.

"The attorney general has admitted that he doesn't have the constitutional authority to enforce or stop these [secrecy] policies because it's not legal. Full stop," said Lance Christensen, the vice president for education policy of the conservative California Policy Center.

The acknowledgment was made during arguments in a federal lawsuit from San Diego-area teachers who successfully sued their district for ordering them to lie to parents about children's gender identities even after the teachers claimed a religious exemption from the policy. Bonta and Gov. Gavin Newsom (D.) were brought into the case after school district officials said they only ordered their teachers to conceal kids' gender confusion because state guidance told them they must. Bonta's office claimed that because the state can't enforce this guidance, the attorney general has no relevance in the case.

In an emailed statement, a California Justice Department representative dismissed the significance of the agency's admission, saying that while "the state has no enforcement" over guidance instructing schools to socially transition students without notifying parents, it can enforce "California anti-discrimination and privacy statutes that underlie these guidelines." Bonta is citing these other laws, which say nothing about gender transitions, to sue school districts that don't abide by the parental secrecy policy.

Critics of Bonta's stance on gender ideology in schools say his position is an example of state leaders' doublespeak on the hotly contested issue.

Paul Jonna, the trial attorney for the San Diego teachers, said that state officials "have always been saying one thing in court and doing something else throughout the state" and that the California Justice Department's statement on its inability to enforce the policy is "a significant concession."

"The writing is on the wall with these policies, and they will lose on this issue in the long run," Jonna added.

Julie Hamill, a Los Angeles-area attorney and Southern California school district member, stressed that school districts craft their secret transition documents based on the state's guidance and agreed the Justice Department's statement is notable.

"Not only are districts not required to use secret transition documents or falsify records to deceive parents, but doing so exceeds a district's legal rights and authority," Hamill said.

U.S. District Court judge Roger Benitez, who is presiding over the teachers' lawsuit, found that the San Diego school district's secret gender transition policy violated the U.S. Constitution on 1st and 14th Amendment grounds.

Sarah Parshall Perry, a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation who has been following the national battle over schools' transitioning their students, said California is one of several blue states that rely on local school districts to enforce what they want, rather than trying to pass legislation that wouldn't pass muster in court.

"The states and attorneys general know better than to pass or advocate for a law that would be patently unconstitutional," she said.