Two middle school teachers are suing their district and the California State Board of Education over a school policy they charge requires staff to conceal students’ gender identities from their parents.
Teacher Elizabeth Mirabelli told CBN News she and other teachers fear this gender mandate at Rincon Middle School in Escondido drives a wedge between kids and their parents.
“We were told in meetings that we had to follow the policy strictly,” she said. “We were told to say certain things and we were told to withhold information from parents, and one teacher that works with me at my school asked a lot of questions about the policy. She spoke to her students about it, also questioning whether it was the right thing to do.”
Mirabelli said this teacher was “called into the office and she was reprimanded in writing” by the principal and assistant principal.
This reported punishment had a chilling impact on Mirabelli and other educators concerned about the policy.
“I got pretty scared because I thought, ‘Oh, you know, they’re gonna write you up, that goes in your file and you’re supposedly violating, you know the rules of your contract,'” Mirabelli said.
At first, she said no students made any requests to conceal their gender identities. That changed this year, however, when kids began asking her to do just that. And that’s when Mirabelli knew she needed to do something.
“I realized quickly that I was in a really rough space because I keep in regular contact with parents,” she said. “I like to keep them up to date on any concerns that I have, whether they’re academic, or behavior, social, emotional. But I knew that teachers were getting in trouble for speaking out.”
Mirabelli contacted the Thomas More Society and attorneys filed a federal complaint against Escondido Union School District officials and the state board. Special counsel Paul Jonna said the case addresses two constitutional issues.
“Basically, there’s the parental rights aspect and there’s the First Amendment rights of teachers, and both of them are at issue in our case,” he said. “We’re representing teachers, but, again, they’re severely undermining the rights of parents because they’re leaving them in the dark.”
He continued, “It’s a blatant violation of one of the most basic and fundamental rights that our nation has recognized from its inception, which is a fundamental right with parents to raise their own children without government interference.”
The Escondido Union School District issued a statement in the wake of the lawsuit affirming its commitment to “providing a safe and positive environment” and observing “all federal and state laws.” It read:
“The Escondido Union School District is committed to providing a safe and positive environment that enables our students to learn and actualize their unlimited potential and that empowers our teachers to excel as educators. As part of that commitment to student learning, the District observes all federal and state laws.”
But Mirabelli believes there are better ways to handle students struggling with gender identity, including school counseling and working alongside parents.
“Watchful waiting is the safest approach,” she said. “We don’t wanna drive a wedge, teach the child to hide and manipulate others. That’s not healthy.”
Jonna believes the lawsuit could help establish a precedent halting such policies.
“The First Amendment rights of teachers is what we’re focusing on. That’s what our claims are based on,” he said. “It’s free speech and free exercise of religion. And those are very strong claims that we believe will ultimately prevail.”