Orange Unified School District passes anti-transgender policy

Orange Unified School District

Orange Unified School District board member Kris Erickson, second from left, speaks during the Jan. 19 board meeting. Other members are John Ortega, left, Angie Rumsey, and board president Rick Ledesma, right. The school board is the fifth in Southern California to approve an anti-trans policy. Ortega, Rumsey, Ledesma, and Madison Miner (not pictured) supported the policy in a 4-0 vote on Thursday. The three other board members left the meeting when they said they feared for their safety after extremists started yelling during the meeting. Photo: Orange Unified School District YouTube page.

Radical extremists once again interrupted a Southern California school board meeting to promote their anti-LGBTQ+ agenda and support a policy that would out trans and gender-nonconforming students to their parents. This time it happened at the Orange Unified School District.

On Thursday, during the Orange Unified School District board meeting, demonstrators packed the building and parking lot.

Just like at other school district meetings where similar policies have been passed, religious right extremists showed up in droves with the same signs, such as “Leave our kids alone.”

LGBTQ+ supporters also were in attendance, “Protect our LGBTQ+ kids from bigots.”

Chino Valley school district’s anti-trans policy blocked by judge

At one point, an anti-LGBTQ+ demonstrator stood at the podium with an American flag on a pole and started shouting, and then an LGBTQ+ supporter started shouting into a megaphone. A disturbance broke out afterward.

The meeting was paused and board members left. But when the meeting resumed, Trustees Kris Erickson, Ana Page, and Andrea Yamasaki were absent. On Friday, they released a statement saying that they feared for their safety when anti-LGBTQ+ demonstrators yelled threats at them and the meeting got out of control.

Board President Rick Ledesma and Trustees John Ortega, Angie Rumsey, and Madison Miner, who proposed the policy, decided to move forward and approved the policy.

The vote took place after three hours of contentious public comment.

The policy has its origins in Assembly Bill 1314, proposed by Assemblymember Bill Essayli, R-Riverside, which was denied a committee hearing in April. Essayli showed up at the Orange Unified School District meeting Thursday night to promote his anti-LGBTQ ideology.

Since his bill was denied a hearing, Essayli has visited several school districts throughout the state, including the one in Chino Valley, and encouraged their evangelical-connected boards to pass policies that mirror his bill, which they have.

Chino Valley was the first school district in the state to pass the “parental notification” policy. Almost identical policies have been passed in Temecula and Murrieta.

A judge temporarily blocked the policy after California Attorney General Rob Bonta sued the school district. Bonta, in a news release sent Thursday, criticized the Orange Unified School District policy and said legal action could occur.

The Orange Unified School District policy requires a certificated staff member or principal to inform parents if their child — who is under 12 years of age — want to use different names or pronouns or requests to change sex-segregated programs such as athletic teams or changing facilities that differ from the student’s “assigned biological sex at birth.”

If the student is over 12, it is up to a school counselor or psychologist to decide if there is a safety risk to inform the family.

“This is a vote for the safety of our kids,” Miner said. “Keeping parents aware of what is happening is the only way we can move forward towards safety in our district.”

Orange Unified Educators Association opposed the policy and released a letter, before the Aug. 17 meeting, when the policy was first discussed, arguing the policy would violate various aspects of California law as well as “student privacy rights grounded in the California Constitution.”

The union said the policy would burden teachers with the difficult task of discussing sensitive issues about their students with parents.

“In addition to the legal issues, this policy requires certificated employees to have the appropriate knowledge, training, and time to have communication with students and guardians about sensitive and confidential issues,” the letter stated.

USC education professor Julie Marsh said these anti-trans policies are not a random effort, but a coordinated strategy.

“All that we’re seeing in Temecula and Chino and Orange and other places around the state are examples of the same thing, where we’ve got a very concerted effort that started with trying to elect conservative members to the board to get a majority and to then advance policies that are more conservative in nature,” Marsh told EdSource.

“Some would argue it’s a politics of distraction to distract us from the core work of what schools are supposed to be doing around teaching and learning,” Marsh said. “And others would even go further to say this is an explicit effort to undermine public confidence in the public school system.”

Marsh added, “I feel like it’s a wake-up call for folks to just pay a little bit more attention to school boards.”

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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