Thomas More Society Files Federal Lawsuit Over First Amendment Violations at Escondido K-8 School District
Teachers from a California middle school are suing their school district and the California State Board of Education over policies requiring them to keep secrets from, and even lie to, parents about their minor-age students. The federal lawsuit, filed by attorneys from the Thomas More Society on April 27, 2023, charges administrators at the Escondido Union School District, California State Board of Education, and Rincon Middle School, with violations of the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment over a policy with which they have allowed activists to “coopt school districts to push gender theory.”
The litigation was prompted by the Escondido Union School District, a K-8 school district, implementation of a series of new policies on the treatment of “transgender” or “gender diverse” students.
These policies force teachers to aid in a student’s transgender “social transition” by:
- unhesitatingly accepting a child’s assertion of a transgender or gender-diverse identity;
- immediately using any pronouns or a gender-specific name requested by a student during school;
- but reverting to biological pronouns and legal names when speaking with parents in order to actively hide information about a child’s gender identity from his or her parents.
“All of this is to be done without parent or guardian agreement or knowledge. Schools routinely send notes home to parents about trivial matters, like missing homework, so it is unfathomable that Escondido Union School District has a policy that forces teachers to withhold from parents some of the most fundamental and basic information about their children,” explained Paul Jonna, Thomas More Society Special Counsel and Partner, LiMandri and Jonna LLP.
Furthermore, the federal court filing reveals that Escondido Union School District requires elementary and middle school teachers to ensure that parents do not find out about their child’s social transition. The policy goes so far as to state that “revealing a student’s transgender status to individuals who do not have a legitimate need for the information, without the student’s consent” is prohibited. According to the district, “parents or caretakers” are individuals who “do not have a legitimate need for the information,” irrespective of the age of the student or the specific facts of the situation.
Escondido Union School District has even scripted the response that its teachers must parrot if confronted by “a suspicious parent.” They are coached to reply that “the inquiry is outside of the scope of the intent of their interaction” and that they can only discuss “information regarding the student’s behavior as it relates to school, class rules, assignments, etc.” Even if a parent expresses concern, teachers are specifically “directed to refrain from elaborating on their personal beliefs” regarding the child’s gender confusion.
“The real outrage here,” declared Jonna, “is that schools are requiring educators to hide critical information from parents about their child’s well-being. Rather than partnering with parents to help raise up young people with a well-rounded education and breadth of knowledge, these radical agendas are pitting parents and teachers against one another, to the detriment of their students.”
In a note of irony, Jeffrey Trissell, Thomas More Society Special Counsel and LiMandri and Jonna LLP attorney, observed that the new policies violate the Escondido Union School District’s own Professional Standards as listed in the Board Policy Manual, where “Being dishonest with students, parents/guardians, staff, or members of the public” is deemed “Inappropriate Conduct.”
“That is the same manual that itemizes the district ‘Philosophy’ to include, ‘Parents/guardians have a right and an obligation to be engaged in their child’s education and to be involved in the intellectual, physical, emotional, and social development and well-being of their child,’” Trissell stated. “Yet the Escondido Union School District thinks it is alright to deliberately and intentionally lie to these same parents and guardians.”
“Schools should be a safe place for children, one that parents can trust with their child’s welfare,” continued Jonna, “but the actions of the Escondido Union School District and Rincon Middle School administrators deliberately foster enmity between families and educators. Parents and teachers should be outraged at being manipulated in this manner.”
Jonna noted that the teachers suing the district, Elizabeth Mirabelli and Lori Ann West, happen to be devoutly Catholic and Christian, respectively, in their beliefs and consider the school’s policies a violation of their religious liberties. They sought accommodation from the district on those grounds. The school district granted an accommodation regarding the use of preferred pronouns and gender-specific names during the school day, which is not a part of the case, but denied an accommodation with respect to Mirabelli’s and West’s continuing duty to lie to parents. However, Jonna pointed out that the situation is even more problematic.
“It boils down to the need for a basic trust in the institutions that we support with our tax dollars to protect and defend our children. Public schools should never hide information from or lie to parents about a child’s mental health or personal circumstances,” Jonna emphasized. “And schools should never compel teachers to perpetrate such a deception.”
Read the Verified Complaint filed April 27, 2023, by Thomas More Society attorneys in the United States District Court for the Southern District of California, on behalf of educators Elizabeth Mirabelli and Lori Ann West, in Mirabelli, et al. v. Olson, et al. here.