California school board battles over LGBTQ+ rights intensify after transgender vote in Chino

California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond speaks outside of Enrique S. Camarena Elementary School Wednesday, July 21, 2021, in Chula Vista, Calif. The school is among the first in the state to start the 2021-22 school year with full-day, in-person learning. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)
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School board battles over LGBTQ+ issues are intensifying in California after State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond was cut off at a public meeting in Chino on Thursday for speaking out against a proposal that would notify parents about students' gender identities.

The incident comes just days after Gov. Gavin Newsom threatened to fine a school board in Temecula for refusing to teach state-approved LGBTQ+ history lessons that feature slain gay rights leader Harvey Milk.

The actions underscore political divisions in red pockets of the deep blue state, where Republicans have worked to get conservative majorities on local school boards as they lack power in the Democrat-controlled Legislature.

During a chaotic Chino Valley Unified School District meeting Thursday night, Thurmond urged against a proposal to alert parents about students' gender identities, questioning whether it violates privacy laws and calling it a safety risk to LGBTQ+ students "who may not be in homes where they can be safe."

The board voted 4-1 to approve a "parental notification" system that requires school officials to alert parents if a student requests to use "a name or pronoun other than those listed on the student’s birth certificate" or other official records. The policy will also notify parents if their child requests to use bathrooms that "do not align with the gender stated" on record.

Thurmond, a former Democratic state lawmaker who is considering a 2026 run for governor, was cut off by conservative school board President Sonja Shaw to cheers and applause.

"You’re in Sacramento proposing things that pervert children," Shaw shouted at Thurmond during the meeting, accusing him of blackmailing and bullying school district leaders who support the proposal.

Thurmond said he was ejected from Thursday's meeting by school board leadership. A livestream of the meeting showed police speaking to Thurmond at the podium after his short speech.

"I don’t mind being thrown out of a board meeting by extremists. I can take the heat — it’s part of the job," Thurmond said on Twitter. "What I can’t accept is the mistreatment of vulnerable students whose privacy is being taken away."

The vote came despite a letter sent to Chino Valley Unified Superintendent Norman Enfield by California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta, who warned that legal action could be pursued, as children are protected by privacy and nondiscrimination laws.

"The protection of every student’s privacy and safety is of utmost importance, and that includes protecting their right to choose when, how, and with whom they share their gender identity. That is a personal decision for them, and them alone,” Bonta said in a statement Thursday.

Supporters of the policy point to existing state law that protects transgender student rights and allows them to participate in the programs of their choice, and say that parents should be notified of those decisions. They echo conservative talking points about "parental rights" that have been playing out at school boards across the state and country.

The gay rights organization Equality California said the policy is the result of "blatant" homophobia and transphobia.

"With LGBTQ+ youth around the country under attack, the school board put their most vulnerable students in harm’s way with their dangerous vote to forcibly out trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming youth without their consent," Equality California Executive Director Tony Hoang said Friday.

The Chino case was inspired by a bill proposed by Assemblymember Bill Essayli (R-Riverside), which failed in the state Legislature earlier this year. That bill similarly would have required that schools statewide notify parents within three days if a student identifies "as a gender that does not align with the child’s sex on their birth certificate."

In a statement, Essayli called his bill "a commonsense proposal" that was blocked by the Democratic supermajority in the Legislature despite support from parents.

"While they certainly have the votes to control the agenda in Sacramento, they do not have the votes to stop us in our communities," Essayli said of state Democrats in a statement following the failure of his bill.

Erin Friday, a spokesperson for Our Duty, a parent group that has advocated against transgender rights, said she hopes more school districts will adopt similar policies.

“It is so dangerous to cut parents out of children's lives,” she said. “Teachers do not get to step into the shoes of parents. I feel that it’s a parent’s issue.”

A report released by the UCLA Institute for Democracy, Education and Access this year noted a pattern of conflict in school districts across the state and the nation.

"The problem with our current moment is not too much democracy, but too little. Public school governance, at its best, brings together diverse members of the community to forge a vision for a shared future–one that embraces the values of a diverse democracy," the study stated.

Earlier this week, the Temecula Valley Unified school board voted to reject LGBTQ+ history lessons on the basis of unfounded allegations that it would promote pedophilia.

The board was expected to revisit the issue in an emergency school board meeting on Friday night.

Newsom has threatened to fine the district $1.5 million over the matter and said this week the state has secured a contract for the Harvey Milk materials, which will be sent to Temecula in defiance of the board. The governor is rushing to get legislation passed that will ensure he will be able to send the district the bill for the books.

The governor was at the center of a sermon at a Temecula church this week, where school board members were featured speakers. There, the school board president, Joseph Komrosky, and fellow board member Jen Wiersma spoke in opposition to LGBTQ+ inclusive lessons in schools.

"We could even push it further and say what about beastiality, what about necrophilia?" Komrosky said during a livestream of the church event Thursday, comparing those matters to LGBTQ+ rights.

The conservative majority on the board was voted into office in December.

Temecula parent Kristi McClure said the school board is wasting time and taxpayer money.

“You hear the board members talk about a parent’s involvement to decide what’s appropriate for their children, but when those parents don’t line up with the board’s Christian conservative values they change their mind and want to bring in outside opinions,” McClure said. “To me, it seems that the board is more interested in having a fight with Newsom’s office rather than taking care of the school district."

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.