Can a School District Require Teachers to Lie to Parents About Their Own Children?
May 2, 2023
Can a school district require teachers to hide a student’s gender identity and ‘social transition’ from his or her parents? Two teachers from a California middle school are suing the Escondido Union School District—or EUSD, a K-8 school district—and the California State Board of Education over policies that force them to do just that.
Attorneys from the Thomas More Society filed suit April 27 in Mirabelli, et al. v. Olson, et al., on behalf of California teachers Elizabeth Mirabelli and Lori Ann West. The suit argues EUSD’s new policies, requiring teachers to accept and aid in a student’s ‘social transition,’ violate the Free Speech and Free Exercise clauses of the First Amendment.
EUSD’s implementation of a series of new policies on the treatment of transgender and gender-diverse K-8 students drafts teachers into facilitating the process “by using any pronouns or a gender-specific name requested by a student,” 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.” In this way, the EUSD’s policies force elementary and middle school teachers to hide critical information about their students’ ‘social transition,’ or the use of a new name and pronouns to ‘validate’ a gender identity that is not consistent with a person’s sex.
“Parents and caretakers” are, according to district administrators, individuals who “do not have a legitimate need for the information”—no matter the age of the student involved. If a suspicious parent finds out, teachers are instructed to refrain from honestly answering any questions on the matter. Moreover, if a parent discovers their child’s social transition, and objects, the school district’s policies prohibit teachers from respecting parents’ wishes.
“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.
With this “Parental Exclusion Policy” in place, only underage children attending this K-8 school district are allowed to make such important and sometimes life-altering decisions—while parents are left in the dark, and teachers are required to unquestionably comply with and support the students’ requests.
“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,” Jonna added. “Public schools should never hide information from or lie to parents about a child’s mental health or personal circumstances.”
Elizabeth Mirabelli and Lori Ann West
Elizabeth Mirabelli and Lori Ann West are both middle school teachers at Rincon Middle School with outstanding, decades-long teaching careers. Mirabelli, a devout Roman Catholic, has taught English at EUSD’s Rincon Middle School since 1997—where she’s been named ‘Teacher of the Year.’ West, a devout Christian, has taught physical education at Rincon Middle School since 1999, where she has twice been named ‘Teacher of the Year.’
A competitive gymnast in her youth, West had a lifelong passion for physical education. After a catastrophic injury—fracturing her back in two places—West thought she would never compete again. But she bounced back to become a collegiate gymnast and placed first in the California state championships with her team. West went on to receive a juris doctorate degree and was on her way to forging a successful career as an attorney, but her passion for children and sports led her to instead spend the next 30 years teaching physical education.
Morally and religiously, Mirabelli and West found themselves at odds with the school district’s new policy. Perpetuating a scheme of deception against parents is deeply immoral, they believe. Mirabelli and West, as a Catholic and a Christian, respectively, both believe that God immutably creates each person as male or female.
Both Mirabelli and West have continued to directly experience the effects of the policy, interacting with students who have requested that parents not be notified of their new gender identification—an identity incongruent with their biological sex. For example, in August 2022 alone, Mirabelli received a list of seven transgender or gender-diverse students. Six of the seven students requested that teachers actively deceive their parents and withhold this information.
Moreover, both teachers believe the district’s policies endanger students, instead of protecting and safeguarding them. Surely complicated issues like gender dysphoria and identity should not be left for children to figure out on their own?
Although the school district has permitted a religious accommodation for how Mirabelli and West may refer to students at school, the district outright refused to exempt the teachers from the Parental Exclusion Policy—compelling them to systematically deceive the parents of their students.
Faced with the possibility of disciplinary action, both teachers have been left with little choice but to comply with the school district’s new policies.
Not without a sense of irony, the school district’s Parental Exclusion Policy—unconstitutional and immoral—also contradicts other core internal policies.
District policy regarding parental rights dictates that “[b]eing dishonest with students, parents/guardians, staff, or members of the public” is “[i]nnapropriate employee conduct.” Yet another policy guideline states that “[p]arents/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.”
Moreover, EUSD also states that “[t]here should be serious consideration of controversial issues on public problems in our public schools” and that teachers have “the right to express his/her own opinion.” However, EUSD’s Parental Exclusion Policy runs roughshod over existing policy: teachers are “directed to refrain from elaborating on their personal beliefs” when approached by parents asking about their child’s gender confusion.
EUSD’s Parental Exclusion Policy is flagrantly at odds with their own policies—going against a common-sense, foundational understanding of the responsibilities of teachers and the role of parents in their child’s education.
Stopping the system of deception
The exclusion of parents from the personal lives of their underaged children, as teachers are coerced into perpetuating a scheme of deception to hide information, is an affront to both the rights of parents and the religious freedom of educators.
The Thomas More Society, on behalf of Mirabelli and West, will continue to challenge EUSD’s egregious Parental Exclusion Policy in order to protect parental rights and defend the religious exercise and free speech rights of all educators.