(Februrary 1, 2024 – San Diego, California) In a legal showdown over parental rights, children’s safety, and First Amendment rights, California Governor Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Rob Bonta are now named in a lawsuit by Christian teachers Elizabeth Mirabelli and Lori Ann West. On January 29, 2024, Thomas More Society attorneys filed an amended lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of California on behalf of the San Diego-area teachers who were forced to lie to parents about student gender dysphoria.
Mirabelli, et al. v. Olson, et al. now names Newsom and Bonta as defendants in the suit, along with the officials of the Escondido Union School District, California Department of Education, California State Board of Education, California State Superintendent of Public Instruction, and Rincon Middle School, where both teachers are on staff.
“These previously named defendants are all operating under the supervision and control of the Governor, who has ultimate responsibility for overseeing the state’s education system,” explained attorney Paul Jonna, Thomas More Society Special Counsel and Partner, LiMandri and Jonna LLP. “The Escondido Union School District has asserted that it is compelled by the state to adopt and enforce parental exclusion policies in which California dictates the deception requiring teachers to lie to parent about their students. That leads to the conclusion that the state, and therefore, the Governor is the driving force behind the violation of Elizabeth Mirabelli and Lori Ann West’s constitutional rights.”
On September 14, 2023, the court issued a preliminary injunction in favor of the teachers, preventing the school district and state from enforcing the policy compelling them to deceive parents about their students. The same order denied the motion to dismiss made by California and the school district. Judge Roger Benitez wrote that the school’s gender secrecy policy “likely violates” the U.S. Constitution and labelled it “a trifecta of harm,” heaping abuses on children, parents, and teachers.
Twelve days later, Bonta issued a letter to school district superintendents and members of boards of education. The letter titled, “Guidance Regarding Forced Disclosure Policies Concerning Gender Identity” issued instructions to school authorities. Jonna responded to Bonta’s misleading “guidance letter,” pointing out that it was in direct conflict with Judge Benitez’s federal court order. The letter instructed school districts to implement policies enabling them to conceal a student’s self-selected gender “identity” from parents or legal guardians.
On January 10, 2024, Bonta issued a “legal alert” in which he doubled down on his earlier directive to school districts. In the legal alert, Bonta claimed that “outdated social stereotypes” were a leading reason for keeping parents informed of their child’s gender-related issues when presented in school. Bonta also stated that school districts would be violating their “duty of care” to students by revealing such crucial information to parents without the “student’s express consent.”
“The California Department of Education tried to have it both ways,” stated Jonna, “on the one hand, they tried to tell the court that their ‘guidance’ on gender identity policies is not mandatory, even though they used words like ‘must’ and ‘required.’ Meanwhile, elsewhere in California, they’re working hand-in-hand with the California Attorney General enforcing this supposedly non-binding ‘guidance’ with litigation and by withholding millions of dollars of state education funds. Fortunately, the court saw though this last September—and the injunction we obtained binds all of the applicable state actors. But because the California AG and the Governor are so connected to this fight, we’re naming them as defendants to hold them fully accountable as well.”
In January 2023, the teachers asked the court to hold the school district and other entities in contempt for refusing to reinstate the teachers, who had been unwillingly placed on administrative leave. After firm reprimand by the court, the district allowed Mirabelli and West to return to their classrooms, which West did on January 16.
Read the Verified First Amended Complaint filed January 29, 2024, by Thomas More Society attorneys in the United States District Court for the Southern District of California, on behalf of middle school teachers Elizabeth Mirabelli and Lori Ann West, in Mirabelli, et al. v. Olson, et al. here.