A BILL REQUIRING schools to inform parents if their children may be transgender might be stalled in Sacramento, but the debate is very much alive at the local level.

The author of Assembly Bill 1314, Assemblymember Bill Essayli, R-Riverside, has vowed to bring the idea to school boards directly, encourage parents to sue school districts and continue to push for a hearing in the Legislature.

“This is a very modest and sensible position. Right now, we’re wrongfully and unlawfully withholding information from parents,” Essayli told EdSource last week. “We believe that the benefits of informing parents far outweigh the speculative harm of not notifying them. … This is an issue that transcends political lines, and we will continue fighting.”

AB 1314 would require teachers, counselors and other school staff to inform parents in writing within three days of discovering that a student identifies as a gender that doesn’t align with their sex assigned at birth. That also includes students who are using bathrooms or locker rooms, playing on sports teams or taking part in other sex-segregated activities that don’t match their sex at birth.

Currently, the state says schools must keep that information from parents unless the students give permission, to protect students from potentially abusive situations at home. Students’ transgender status is protected under state and federal privacy and anti-discrimination laws, the California Department of Education says.

Earlier this month, Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance, chair of the Assembly Education Committee, declined to schedule AB 1314 for a hearing, derailing it at least for the time being. Although the bill could receive a hearing next year, the odds are slim.

One reason Muratsuchi decided not to push forward with the legislation is because of the anti-trans vitriol it could potentially unleash, he said.

“I will not be setting AB 1314 for a hearing, not only because the bill is proposing bad policy, but also because a hearing would potentially provide a forum for increasingly hateful rhetoric targeting LGBTQ youth,” he said.

Bill might have put transgender students at risk

The California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus and advocacy organizations hailed Muratsuchi’s decision, saying that AB 1314 would have put some transgender students at risk for bullying, harassment and physical harm from their families, and eroded trust with teachers and other school staff.

“The assumption that every single family is accepting of their trans children is just plain wrong,” said Jorge Reyes Salinas, spokesperson for Equity California, an LGBTQ civil rights organization. “This legislation would have made teachers ‘gender police’ in charge of ‘outing’ their students. School is a safe haven for many students — this would have damaged that.”

Even with AB 1314 in limbo, several school boards in California have taken up the issue. Chino Valley Unified in San Bernardino County voted earlier this month to support the bill. At the other end of the state, Chico Unified in Butte County voted to uphold its current policy related to transgender students’ privacy, which aligns with the state’s, despite a lawsuit from a parent who accused the district of helping her 11-year-old daughter transition to a boy. Last year, a parent in Monterey County sued the Spreckels Union School District over a similar situation.

It’s likely more school boards will take action on the issue in the coming months, said Erin Friday, a member of a parent group called Our Duty, which lobbies against medical pathways for youth who identify as transgender.

“The assumption that every single family is accepting of their trans children is just plain wrong. This legislation would have made teachers ‘gender police’ in charge of ‘outing’ their students. School is a safe haven for many students — this would have damaged that.”

Jorge Reyes Salinas, spokesperson for Equity California

Parents are frustrated and angry at what they see as schools withholding important information about their children. Parents can’t help their kids, she said, if they don’t know what’s going on.

“I don’t think this issue is going away anytime soon. Secrets from parents don’t work. When you cut out parents, you cut out a child’s lifeline,” said Friday, who said her daughter started identifying as a boy after getting the idea in a school sex ed class but then returned to identifying as a girl after Friday withdrew her from the school.

Requiring schools to notify parents if their children are transgender is not an attack on transgender people generally, Friday said. The majority of parents would support their children regardless, she added.

“I have no anger towards trans people. This is not an anti-trans bill — it’s a pro-parent bill. Let us help our kids,” she said. “We’re going to keep fighting this because it’s an affront to parental rights.”

‘Stigmatized and mistreated’

According to the Trevor Project, which advocates for LGBTQ youth, fewer than 1 in 3 transgender youth describe their homes as “gender-affirming,” according to a 2022 survey of 34,000 LGBTQ young people nationwide.

They also report higher rates of depression and anxiety, in part due to feeling isolated or bullied by peers, family and society in general, the study found. About 20 percent of transgender youth said they attempted suicide in the last year, a rate that’s significantly higher than non-LBGTQ youth.

“LGBTQ youth are not inherently prone to suicide risk because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, but rather placed at higher risk because of how they are stigmatized and mistreated in society,” the report states.

The survey also found that LGBTQ youth have significantly lower suicide rates when they have families, schools and communities that are supportive and accepting of LGBTQ people.

Loretta Whitson, executive director of the California Association of School Counselors, said her organization didn’t take a position on AB 1314 because California already has strict laws that guarantee confidentiality between counselors and students age 12 and over. Those laws would have to be overturned, which is highly unlikely to happen.

But she worries about the fight moving to school boards, where they’re harder to monitor, and the battles raging in other states. The ACLU is tracking 467 bills nationwide that seek to restrict LGBTQ rights, covering everything from pronouns to restrooms to sex education. Already, several states have taken steps similar to AB 1314. The Florida Department of Education, for example, recently sent a letter to Broward County Schools reminding staff that parents have a right to know if children change their pronouns.

“We have a legislative body in California that has worked very hard to protect students in the trans community,” Whitson said. “But there’s a lot of confusion and chaos at the local level and in other states. Telling kids that they’re not OK is a terrible message for kids who are already struggling. It’s dangerous on so many levels.”

This story originally appeared in EdSource.