Students speak out, EGUSD urged to reject 'outing' policies enabled in the name of parental rights

Elk Grove Unified School District Trustee Michael Vargas called parental notification laws aimed at LGBTQ students "incredibly cruel" during the September 19 trustee meeting. | 

Spurred on by a handful of California school districts that have adopted so-called parental notification laws, several students and their supporters spoke at the Tuesday, September 19 Elk Grove Unified School District trustees meeting. Those comments were made during an informational hearing on parents' rights and responsibilities that was placed on the agenda at the request of Trustee Carmine Forcina. 

Uniformly, the students and several adults urged the trustees to reject proposals under the umbrella of parental rights that they say would harm LGBTQ+ students. Several also spoke in opposition to those seeking book bans in school libraries.

Typical of the speakers was Steven Fallwell, who said he was a product of Elk Grove schools and a graduate of Sheldon High School. Falwell said he was "one of those scary transgender people they tell you about," whose name was Stephanie, while in district schools.

Fallwell, who said no book or teacher made him a transgender man, added his parents and teachers taught him the importance of standing up for the little guy. 

"In attendance today is a group of people who have previously demanded some of the following things," Fallwell said. 

Among their demands, Falwell said they sought to ban books that contain LGBTQ+ content, remove Pride proclamations, and remove age-appropriate sex education. 

"Maybe if this group spent more time reading books and less time trying to ban them, they'd realized there is a long history of using parental rights to silence and oppress marginalized communities in educational spaces Specifically," he said. "this is the same exact trojan horse that segregationist ujsed after Brown v Board of Education, It is the same playbook."

See the comments from a school librarian in support of LGGTQ+ students and against book bans in the video below. 

After hearing over an hour of public comments, the trustees heard a presentation by the district's outside counsel, Karen M. Rezendez. That comprehensive presentation covered district responsibilities and legalities.

While public speakers spoke primarily about LGBTQ+ students, trustees focused on school library books. During trustee deliberations, Fornica questioned Rezendez about their role in school library book placement.  

"There is great latitude with the board," Forcina said. "I believe the responsibility lies with the board." 

He then questioned Rezendez by saying, "The board can make decisions to exclude library books that have obscene language and graphic illustrations in favor of clean reads that do not include graphic illustration and obscene language but still provide content information that may be provided in a book that has graphic illustrations - correct"?

Menendez told Forcina, "There are scenarios like that where you could get the school into trouble as a school district."

She added that rejecting a book would have to be "fact-specific. " Citing case law, Memenedez also said removing a school library book could be problematic if it violates the district policies.

During his questioning, Trustee Michael Vargas pinpointed California's Fair Act adopted in 2011. That act, Senate Bill 48, mandates school curriculums to include instruction on previously marginalized communities, including the LGBQT+.  

Discussing the Fair Act with Rezandea, he said it requires school curriculums to take a position and recognize that people have different sexual orientations.  

"What we are talking about here is, this is a requirement that we take a position, right, that we affirmatively say that 'yes, people have different sexual orientation and that we specifically say that there is a harm to discrimination," Vargas said to Rezendez. 

Rezendez affirmed Vargas, who added, "There are places in the statute where we have to take a position."

Vargas ended the deliberations by noting the concerns expressed by many during public comment about so-called parental notification, "outing" policies, which he called "incredibly cruel." Vargas asked Rezendez's thoughts on districts that adopted them only to have courts rule against them. 

Rezendez said it was an evolving area of the law that she described as very complicated. She said a legal legal analysis would be prepared for the district.  

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