Recently, I cast the lone ‘no’ vote when the Rocklin Unified School District Board of Trustees passed a policy to out the identity of transgender students to their parents. I listened to the hundreds of community members on this issue as well as the warning from California Attorney General Rob Bonta that such a policy was illegal and subject to court challenge.
The trustees who support this policy are not listening. And school board members in other communities who agree with them are not done. If this topic comes to a school board meeting near you, chances are there’s not a whole lot you can do to prevent your board from jeopardizing your district’s money. They will try nonetheless.
How do I know this? Because this recent action is part of a coordinated, far-right political effort across our state, being packaged as “Parents Bill of Rights.” I expect that this is only the first of several ideological issues that boards intend to bring to their school communities.
School boards like mine should be focusing on education-related issues, helping to improve our schools and our students’ learning. Instead, these trustees are actively using network news talking points and lies by omission to sow mistrust between parents and teachers.
My board was not looking for solutions, for a way to help kids, empower parents, or address teacher/administrator concerns. This was evident in that a two-person board subcommittee did not seek the input of students, teachers, counselors, principals, or even parents. When I suggested that we look for solutions that improve parent-child relationships while respecting concerns on both sides of the issue, my colleagues were not willing to engage in any meaningful dialogue. After the concerned public spoke, none of the concerns were acknowledged, let alone entertained.
My colleagues know that solutions made with collaboration and consideration don’t bring lawsuits. Peace and unity in a community do not make headlines. Without a legal fight, there’s no political advancement of their agenda. They seem to want this fight to go all the way to the Supreme Court, using our tax dollars to fund it. Would these board members feel so emboldened on this issue if the legal fees were coming out of their own pockets?
These inevitable legal costs to our school districts are sure to result in cost reductions elsewhere: meaning money that could have been spent on educational programs or additional staff will now be funneled toward fighting lawsuits.
Look over your school district’s most recent budget vote. If you see that cuts were made to valuable programs (learning supports, school nurses, librarians, etc.) or if you see that repairs and maintenance issues are being put off you can reasonably assume that money is being spent on political issues that have no relevance to the quality of our students’ education.
Our school boards have no business spending taxpayer money in this way.
Advancing a misguided and costly social agenda through a school district is a dereliction of duty. California students will end up paying the price, not only as a result of mismanagement of resources but in regard to their individual rights under the law. Regardless of how many times my fellow board members may claim that this stripping away of student rights is legal, remember that there is a reason that California Attorney General Rob Bonta has already filed a suit against this same policy elsewhere in the state.
Our laws do, indeed, entitle students to privacy, freedom of expression and equal protection and access to publicly funded programs.
Politics belong in political forums like the California Legislature. The local school board should concern itself solely with education.
Michelle Sutherland is a board member at the Rocklin Unified School District.