Federal Judges Clash Over Parental Notification of Transgender Students

U.S. Court House in San Diego where Judge Roger Benitez presides.

A recent ruling by U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez of San Diego has ignited a legal debate over the rights of parents and the privacy of transgender students.

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Judge Benitez stated on September 14 that schools adhering to California’s policy, which allows students to choose whether or not to inform their parents about their transgender identity, infringe upon parents’ fundamental rights to raise their children.

Benitez compared the situation to schools’ obligations to notify parents about critical incidents, such as a severe concussion, sexual assault, or suicidal ideation. He argued that parents must be informed in these situations, even if the student opposes.

Furthermore, Benitez’s ruling indicated that the Escondido Union School District, which follows the state’s regulations, also violates teachers’ rights to communicate with their students and parents.

The policy also allegedly infringes upon the religious freedom of two teachers who believe it contradicts their faith. The district serves 16,000 students from kindergarten to eighth grade.

However, this decision starkly contrasts with an earlier ruling by U.S. District Judge John Mendez of Sacramento.

On July 10, Judge Mendez dismissed a lawsuit against the Chico Unified School District, stating that California has a valid interest in safeguarding transgender students from potential harm, including domestic abuse and bullying.

Mendez, appointed by the same president as Benitez, President George W. Bush, argued that the school district was not meddling with parents’ rights. Instead, it was allowing students to disclose their gender identity to their parents at their discretion.

Benitez countered this perspective in his ruling, dismissing the notion that the privacy rights of transgender students were in jeopardy.

The conservative group behind the Chico lawsuit, The Center for American Liberty, plans to appeal Mendez’s decision to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Similarly, lawyers representing the Escondido district and the state are expected to challenge Benitez’s ruling in the same court.

Governor Gavin Newsom has publicly criticized Benitez, labeling him a “stone-cold ideologue.”

In 2015, a state law mandated public schools to accommodate transgender students in all programs and allow them to use facilities aligning with their gender identity.

However, some school districts in conservative regions have defied these state regulations, insisting that teachers inform parents when a student identifies as transgender.

The debate intensified after the Chino Unified School District in San Bernardino County directed its teachers to notify parents about their child’s transgender identity unless evidence suggested potential harm to the student.

This decision led Attorney General Rob Bonta to initiate a civil rights investigation.

The controversy climaxed in July when the school board of the 26,000-student district voted for parental notification after a heated four-hour meeting.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond was briefly allowed to voice his opposition before being escorted out by security officers.

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