What's at stake?
Advocates say Clovis schools need to do more to protect LGBTQ students, while parents say they have a right to their child's information.
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In the pronoun policy debate raging through recent Clovis Unified school board meetings, the two sides appear to agree on just one thing – they both dislike the district’s current policy.
But what is the Clovis Unified policy for notifying parents when a child wishes to access facilities or be addressed with pronouns that don’t align with the gender on their birth certificate?
“Our existing practices in Clovis Unified are centered on balancing the rights of students to access facilities and programs based on their gender identity and the rights held by parents and guardians in the upbringing of their children,” CUSD spokesperson Kelly Avants told Fresnoland in an email.
Clovis schools pronoun policy, found in the district’s recently adopted Student Site Plan, allows students to state their gender identity, gender expression, preferred name, and pronouns, as well as their gender assigned at birth.
However, it does not protect that information from parents or allow students to notify CUSD if parent involvement would put their safety at risk.
That has drawn criticism and warnings from critics, including PFLAG Fresno, the local chapter of the nationwide organization that works to support LGBTQ community allies and educates people about the issues the community faces.
The policy also doesn’t include any formal parental notification process if a student asks teachers to address them with a pronoun that differs from their birth certificate. And that’s been one of the key issues for the dozens of parents and activists who’ve flooded Clovis school board meetings in recent weeks.
“We look at every child individually to make sure they are supported and safe at school,” Avants said. “And, we look for ways to ensure that no parent is left without access to their child’s student records and educational experience.”
What policy advocates say about the Clovis schools pronoun policy
Anthony Flores, a senior pastor for Adventure Church in Fresno, attended the meeting and voiced his support for a parent notification policy, stressing the importance of a parent’s involvement in their child’s life.
“We’ve got to allow parents to parent, and what we can do is offer resources,” Flores said.
Residents who supported drafting a parent notification policy shared the same sentiment as Flores, emphasizing their importance in their child’s life. Some also noted that CUSD has an opportunity to set itself apart from local school districts.
“Parental notifications allow parents to contribute to their insights and experience,” said a Clovis resident who did not identify themselves. “I just hope you all make the right decision in this, and please don’t let these folks from Fresno Unified influence your decision on this. We’ve always prided ourselves in not being Fresno.”
In many of the public presentations, residents who supported the parent notification policy proposal cited their personal beliefs as a reason to implement such a policy. They also urged the board to make it clear to residents whether they support a revised Clovis schools pronoun policy.
What student privacy advocates say about the Clovis schools pronoun policy
An earlier draft of the SSP was better, PFlag says. The early draft, known as the Gender Acknowledgement Plan (GAP), allowed students to inform the district that parental involvement might put the student’s safety at risk.
Harbaugh said the district “threw it away without listening to the students, GSA advisers, or the school psychologist.”
The GAP also allowed students to communicate if they were comfortable with parental involvement, even giving students the option to declare if their safety would be jeopardized if a parent was notified of the student’s gender identity.
But that proposed policy was scrapped before it was implemented.
Earlier this year, the GAP draft evolved into the Student Site Plan (SSP), which requires parental consent or involvement if a student wishes to change their records on pronouns or gender.
“The SSP is the final version of a document that went through drafting and editing and evolved over the course of a single school year,” Avants said. “We do not and have never had an SSP or GAP board policy. Additionally, the access to facilities under AB1266 is not contingent on an SSP being completed. We are and will continue to be in compliance with AB1266.”
The SSP allows students to state their gender identity, gender expression, preferred name, and pronouns, as well as their gender assigned at birth. However, it does not give students the option to notify CUSD if parent involvement will put their safety at risk.
Attendees who opposed the parent notification proposal argued that such a policy would endanger students whose parents may be unsupportive of LGBTQ+ identities. Some also argued that in trying to appease parent demands, the district will be overlooking student’s privacy rights.
“In the quest to increase parental rights, you sacrifice student rights,” said Caleb Helsel, who spoke during the public presentations. “Forcible outing places all LGBT children in danger. LGBT children risk facing rejection, shunning even homelessness from parents who do not accept them.
A parent of a transgender CUSD student, who chose to remain anonymous due to safety concerns, also felt that student rights were not being considered.
“It’s ridiculous to assume that children aren’t human and don’t deserve the same human rights as adults. I think that these parents are looking for absolute control and don’t like that children want some privacy,” she said in an interview.
Another mother, who also chose to remain anonymous, expressed her concern surrounding the community of Clovis and the policy proposal.
“In talking to these parents, we don’t stand up and fight because we’re scared,” she said in an interview. “It feels impossible to stand out and be out and vulnerable because it’s not safe. Those of us who want our kids to have these things, they intimidate and keep us quiet, it’s not safe for them to know our names and our kids’ names.”
Allison Murphy, a Clovis resident who spoke during the public presentation, lost her transgender daughter, Chloe Ann Lacey, to suicide in 2010. She attended the meeting to show support for the transgender community.
In an interview with Fresnoland, Murphy said her daughter, a 2009 Buchanan High School graduate, “did not feel safe in the San Joaquin Valley.”
“She left the valley to go to the Humboldt County area to be able to feel free to be who she was, her authentic self, and when she finally was able to be strong enough to come out to me as her mother, unfortunately, it was too late,” Murphy said. “She had a lot of self-hate due to society not being receptive to the transgender community.”
When Murphy spoke at the Clovis Unified podium last month, she held a sign that read, “I Lost My BHS Trans Child to Suicide.”
“What is happening in Clovis Unified right now is a disgrace, and this policy of outing students is extremely harmful and alarming for their mental health,” Murphy told the school board. “Not every child has a safe place at home.”
Before finishing, Murphy urged the public to advocate for the safety of transgender youth.
“I’m sorry if you don’t want to listen to me. Look at my daughter; she’s worthy of being heard tonight,” Murphy said as she pulled out an urn holding her daughter’s ashes.
“She’s with me. She’s always with me. My daughter matters. Our children matter. We have to speak up for our transgender children so that they feel safe.”