Murrieta Valley defies state order to rescind district’s outing policy

Murrieta Valley Board of Education Trans students

Murrieta Valley Unified School District Board of Education members Nick Pardue, Paul Diffley, and Julie Vandegrift all defied a state order and voted to reaffirm the district’s forced outing policy on Thursday. They have gone out of their way to try and paint the narrative about the policy as one about “parental rights,” but we know that’s a dog whistle for their extremist anti-LGBTQ+ followers. Linda Lunn and Nancy Young voted against the policy. Photo: Murrieta Valley Unified School District website.

Rachel Cagwin Dennis writes about issues impacting the LGBTQ+ community in the Inland Empire.

Anti-LGBTQ+ supporters cheered and applauded the Murrieta Valley school board on Thursday when it defied a state order and the advice of its own staff and reiterated its support for the district’s “parental notification policy,” which requires school employees to notify parents when students change their gender identity.

The forced outing policy, which the board voted 3 to 2 to keep, mandates that administrators, teachers and counselors must notify parents or guardians in writing within three days after any district employee has learned that a student is requesting to be “identified or treated as a gender other than the student’s biological sex or gender listed on the student’s birth certificate or any other official records.” 

“Let’s be clear, the three extremist board members who endorsed this policy and reinstated it last night intend for our LGBTQ+ students to live in fear,” said Karen Poznanski, a language arts and social studies teacher at Dorothy McElhinney Middle School and vocal opponent of the policy.

“They are pushing an extremist religious agenda and manufacturing this moral panic. This is blatant discrimination and an abuse of power,” she said.

After the board was notified that the district was being  investigated by state and federal agencies for discrimination relating to the policy, it considered rescinding the policy during a special school board meeting March 28. Instead, the topic was tabled for discussion with the district’s attorneys.

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The “parental notification” policy was approved in August, and an investigation earlier this month by the state Board of Education found that the rules were discriminatory and illegal.

The Board of Education ordered the district to rescind the policy,  and two days later, district administration sent out an unsigned notice from the “Murrieta Valley USD Administrative Team” that appeared to comply with the state directive.

District administrators had placed an item on Thursday’s agenda  to rescind the “parent-notification policy” entirely, but allow the issue to be addressed later.

But then the school board dug in its heels. The board’s attitude indicates that these religious and anti-LGBTQ+ extremists want the state to take this issue to the courts, perhaps even hoping it makes its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“We have a right as a board to defy a dictatorial governor and bureaucracy — or whatever — that tries to take away our rights as parents and as citizens — as a duly elected board,” board member Nick Pardue said during Thursday’s meeting. “We have legal standing and we should absolutely stand up for our rights against dictators.”

Pardue, board President Paul Diffley, and board member Julie Vandegrift (who all voted to approve the policy) have gone out of their way to try and paint the narrative as one about “parental rights,” but we know that’s a dog whistle for their extremist anti-LGBTQ+ followers.

Board members Linda Lunn and Nancy Young voted against the policy.

Of course, as is the standard, misinformation regarding the policy and the LGBTQ+ community, as well as fears of hormones and youth surgeries, which cannot be done without parental consent, were heard loud and clear at Thursday’s meeting by members of the public who claimed the policy is anti-parent and causes teachers to lie. 

Studies show that fears of being outed to parents are not unwarranted as trans and gender non-conforming youth are significantly overrepresented in the foster system, juvenile detention centers and homeless shelters with family rejection being the number one cause.

Speakers against the policy on Thursday included the board’s student member, Isabella Dadalt.

“I do not believe that their students would ever withhold information from their parents unless they were genuinely forced to,” she said. “So if you’re a parent, and you feel threatened by the fact that your student is going to a teacher instead of you, I think you need to rethink your parenting.”

Oh, snap.

The policy has caused stress to LGBTQ+ students as evidenced by increased calls to LGBTQ+ crisis centers.

The extremists on the Murrieta Valley school board aren’t the only ones trying to push their religious noses into students’ privacy issues.

The Murrieta Valley policy mirrors a forced outing policy passed by the Chino Valley school district. But state Attorney General Rob Bonta has sued that district, saying the policy violates the Equal Protection Clause and right to privacy of the California Constitution as well as the state’s education code that protects students against discrimination.

After analyzing data provided by the FBI, the Washington Post found that school hate crimes quadrupled in states with laws targeting the LGBTQ+ community, indicating that the consequences of these policies put LGBTQ+ students at risk.

It’s worth noting that two of the three Murrieta Valley school board members who voted to uphold the forced outing policy, Diffley, trustee area five, and Vandegrift, trustee area three, are up for re-election in November. 

Murrieta residents are encouraged to correct misinformation and vote for candidates who will represent all students in the district, not discriminate, and who will obey the laws of the state.

About the author

Rachel Cagwin Dennis

Rachel Cagwin Dennis (she/her) is a recovering evangelical pastor turned community activist-minister in the Temecula Valley. When she’s not getting into “good trouble,” you can find her in her garden, reading under a tree, hanging with family and friends, or napping with her cats.

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