Judge blocks Chino Valley policy mandating schools notify parents if students are transgender

Alexander Simpson, left, and Delbert Tran, attorneys for the State of California, react in San Bernardino Superior Court.
Alexander Simpson, left, and Delbert Tran, attorneys for the state of California, appear in San Bernardino County Superior Court to argue for a temporary restraining order against Chino Valley Unified’s parental notification policy.
(Eric Thayer / For The Times)

A San Bernardino County Superior Court judge on Wednesday ruled the Chino Valley Unified School District must hold off on enforcing its new policy requiring that schools notify parents if students indicate they identify as transgender or gender-nonconforming.

Judge Thomas Garza granted the state’s request for a temporary restraining order. A hearing is scheduled Oct. 13 to continue litigating whether Chino Valley’s policy violates state civil rights and privacy laws when it comes to students and gender identity.

Garza said Wednesday’s hearing marked “Round One” in a case pitting parental rights against student privacy rights, a legal dispute that he said is likely to land in higher courts for review and to require legislative guidance. Still, he found Chino Valley’s policy “too broad, too general” and without a “clear purpose or reference of parental support and involvement.”


“There will be parents who won’t take kindly to these discussions,” Garza said.

The judge also took issue with the Chino Valley school board, noting that trustees at their July 12 meeting used terms such as “delusion” and “mental illness” when discussing gender identity.

At the start of Wednesday’s hearing, attorney Anthony P. De Marco, representing the district, requested a “reset” to flesh out arguments and hear from experts. He criticized the state’s rush to obtain a temporary restraining order.

De Marco also defended the district’s policy as being in the best interest of students. If a student does identify as transgender, he said, parents must be part of the “education team.” The district “can’t figure out if there’s harm at home if we’re not talking to parents,” he said.

Delbert Tran, California’s deputy attorney general, countered that the parental notification policy merited immediate intervention from the court to safeguard vulnerable students. Just weeks into the start of the new school year, he said, the state has heard from teachers who say students are afraid of being “outed” and have been forced to go “underground.” Tran said it’s crucial students are able to talk to their families about issues of gender identity when they are emotionally ready, on their own time frame, and that teachers can help with that process.

Parents are not all violent, but we “can’t gamble for safety of students,” Tran said.

California’s Democratic leaders contend students have clear-cut rights to privacy, even from their parents, when it comes to gender identity. But experts say the legal realities are more nuanced.

Aug. 29, 2023

The ruling is the latest in a showdown unfolding across the Golden State, pitting state leaders against conservative-leaning school boards. Supporters of a parental notification policy argue that parents have a fundamental right to be involved in all aspects of their children’s lives, particularly when it comes to issues such as sex and gender. Opponents contend such policies violate student privacy rights embedded in state law and the education code. “Outing” transgender students to parents and the school community, they maintain, can put a child at serious risk.

“Educating children works best with engaged parents and caring teachers working together to create a safe space for all children to learn,” Kristi Hirst, a parent and former Chino Valley teacher, said in a statement distributed by the American Civil Liberties Union. “This policy breaks down trust between parents, teachers and students, and exposes our most vulnerable students.”


Assemblymember Bill Essayli (R-Corona) has been a force behind the parental notification policies, pressing the issue with local school boards in conservative pockets of California after a bill he authored that would have mandated such a policy statewide died in the Legislature this year. He said Wednesday the judge’s ruling would be appealed and predicted a lengthy legal battle.

“We’ve said from the beginning this is a fight we want to have, and we intend to take it to the Supreme Court,” Essayli said. The coalition calling for notification policies wants to “help trans kids,” not hurt them, he said. As it is, parents are “not even given the opportunity to support their kids,” he said. “If parents are a threat to their kids, we also need to know that.”

Sonja Shaw, president of Chino Valley’s school board, also took issue with Garza’s ruling, contending the board had “spent months assembling a thoughtful policy that allows parents to be involved in the upbringing in their child’s life.”

“The policy does not stop any lifestyle changes,” she said in a text message. “It simply says the parents have a right to know what is going on at school and not be the last person informed.”

Chino Valley Unified in San Bernardino County in July became the first in the state to adopt a policy requiring schools to inform parents if a student identified as transgender or gender-nonconforming, followed by Murrieta Valley Unified and Temecula Valley Unified in Riverside County and Anderson Union High School District in Shasta County. The policy is under discussion in other districts, including Orange Unified and Rocklin Unified.

Backers of the policy say parents are best suited to deal with kids experiencing gender dysphoria. Foes say school might be some students’ only haven.

Aug. 11, 2023

In many cases, the policies are being pushed by a newly elected class of decidedly conservative trustees, ushered in last year as part of a broader revolt in some communities against COVID-related mask mandates and school closures.


Under Chino Valley’s policy, district staff are required to notify parents in writing within three days if they become aware of a student using names, pronouns or changing facilities such as bathrooms that do not match their biological sex.

Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta and state Supt. of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond have come out in staunch opposition to Chino Valley’s policy and the spate of copycat measures, saying California laws afford students privacy rights on issues of gender, even from their parents. Bonta filed the lawsuit that is now before Judge Garza.

“I refuse to stand by and allow Chino Valley or any district board of education to put our children at risk or infringe upon their rights, especially not one of our most vulnerable at-risk groups,” Bonta said in announcing the lawsuit. “Across the country and in our own backyard, the LGBTQ+ community is under attack, and transgender and gender-nonconforming students are on the front lines.”

As more public school districts explore policies around students and gender identity, the extent to which state law grants young people privacy rights from their parents has come under review. And while the state’s Democratic leaders contend such privacy rights are clear-cut, constitutional experts say the legal realities are nuanced, igniting a heated debate likely to move its way through the courts.