The Orange County Register

Opinion: In Chino Valley Case, Courts Should Choose Parents Rights over State Supremacy

October 9, 2023

(The Orange County Register)—Who has the right to decide what’s in the best interests of children: their parents or the state?

That’s the issue at the heart of a lawsuit California Attorney General Rob Bonta has brought against the Chino Valley Unified School District.

In July, the District’s board adopted a policy that requires school officials to notify parents if a child asks to identify as a different gender. Bonta immediately launched an investigation and then sued the District. In August, a judge issued a temporary restraining order barring the District from implementing the policy. Another judge will hold a hearing on whether the policy can take effect on Friday, October 13.

How could telling parents about what their children do at school be against the law?

Bonta’s leading legal argument is that informing parents of their children’s gender transitions violates the children’s right to privacy.

That’s nonsense. Gender transitions at school are public, not private. When a child starts using a different name, different pronouns, and different restrooms at school, everyone there sees it.

So Bonta isn’t protecting anyone’s “privacy.” He’s just hiding information from parents.

Besides, the idea that minor children have a right to privacy against their guardian parents is absurd. Parents oversee all facets of their children’s lives, and children normally have only as much privacy as their parents give them. That’s as it should be–and always has been–because parents need to know what their children are doing so they can fulfill their responsibility to direct their children’s upbringing.

And children only go to public schools because parents have entrusted them with one facet of their development: education. Schools have no inherent authority over children’s lives more broadly.

But Bonta doesn’t trust parents. He says schools have to keep children’s gender transitions secret because some parents might react abusively if they found out.

It’s possible that some parents could react that way–although there’s no evidence that it’s ever happened at Chino Valley, and little if any evidence that it’s ever happened anywhere else. And of course parents could also react inappropriately if they found out that their child got bad grades, or got in trouble for misbehavior–but schools routinely give parents that information.

The mere possibility that some parents could react badly isn’t a good reason to keep all parents in the dark. We have always assumed that parents are in the best position to guide their children, and have a right to do so. And the government has only interfered with parents’ rights where it’s had evidence that it’s necessary to prevent harm in a particular case. We already have laws and policies in place to protect students where there is a dangerous situation at home.

Bonta flips that on its head: he presumes we can’t trust parents in general, but we can rely on the state to look out for children’s interests.

But there’s no reason to start trusting the state more than families. And there are more reasons than ever to be suspicious of the state–not least its desire to keep sexual secrets about children from their parents.

Common sense and the majority of California voters agree with the District’s policy. A recent Rasmussen Reports poll finds that 91 percent believe parents, not the government, have the bigger responsibility to raise a child and 84 percent would support a local law that required parents to be notified of any major change in a child’s physical, mental, or emotional health or academic performance.

In fact, Bonta’s approach is itself harmful to children. In its response to Bonta’s lawsuit, the District has submitted a report from an expert, clinical psychologist Erica Anderson, who counsels both adults and children for gender-identity issues and is herself transgender. Dr. Anderson points out that psychologists have long agreed that children should receive counseling before socially transitioning, to make sure they understand their feelings and are doing what’s right for them. Anderson also says that a child who socially transitions without counseling, and then changes his or her mind, could suffer lasting harm. For a child to receive the necessary counseling, parents must be involved.

So regardless of what one thinks of gender-identity issues, Bonta’s lawsuit has no basis in law or fact. And if courts recognize the authority he asserts–to keep secrets from parents in the name of “privacy”–the state could start managing children’s lives with respect to much more. All California parents should hope the courts reject Bonta’s view.

Jacob Huebert is President of the Liberty Justice Center, the public-interest law firm defending the Chino Valley Unified School District against Attorney General Rob Bonta’s lawsuit.