Escondido Union School District
Rincon Middle School. Photo credit:

A federal judge sided Thursday with two teachers at Escondido’s Rincon Middle School who sued the district over policies related to transgender and gender-nonconforming students.

The April suit, against the Escondido Union School District and state education officials, questioned policies governing what information can be shared with parents of such students.

U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez granted their request for a preliminary injunction prohibiting enforcement of policies that bar teachers from discussing students’ gender identities with their parents.

The lawsuit filed earlier this year on behalf of Elizabeth Mirabelli and Lori Ann West states teachers are required to use “any pronouns or a gender-specific name requested by the student during school, while reverting to biological pronouns and legal names when speaking with parents in order to actively hide information about their child’s gender identity from them.”

In his ruling issued Thursday, Benitez called a parent’s right to make decisions concerning the care, custody control, and medical care of their children “one of the oldest of the fundamental liberty interests that Americans enjoy.”

“However,” he continued, “if a school student expresses words or actions during class that may be the first visible sign that the child is dealing with gender incongruity or possibly gender dysphoria, conditions that may (or may not) progress into significant, adverse, life-long social-emotional health consequences, would it be lawful for the school to require teachers to hide the event from the parents?”

Reached Thursday afternoon, Michelle Breier of the school district said, “Our leadership team is currently reviewing the decision.”

The lawsuit, filed by the Chicago-based Thomas More Society, which is representing Mirabelli and West, also names the California State Board of Education as a defendant.

Transgender notification policies have been enacted by several Southern California school districts in recent months, drawing the ire of state officials and LGBTQ+ support groups, who say such policies could put children in danger if their parents are not receptive.

The California Department of Education says, “Revealing a student’s gender identity or expression to others may compromise the student’s safety. Thus, preserving a student’s privacy is of the utmost importance. The right of transgender students to keep their transgender status private is grounded in California’s anti-discrimination laws as well as federal and state laws.”

The state goes on to say, “disclosing that a student is transgender without the student’s permission may violate California’s anti-discrimination law by increasing the student’s vulnerability to harassment and may violate the student’s right to privacy.”

The teachers’ lawsuit alleged the district’s policy violated Mirabelli and West’s First Amendment rights to free speech and free exercise of religion.

Benitez agreed that the teachers’ religious beliefs were violated and wrote that the students in question could be harmed because they need “parental guidance and possibly mental health intervention to determine if the incongruence is organic or whether it is the result of bullying, peer pressure or a fleeting impulse.”

City News Service