- The Washington Times - Friday, January 21, 2022

A California mother has taken legal action against a school district with the explosive claim that staffers manipulated her middle-school daughter into aligning as transgender, saying they encouraged her to change her name, pronouns and gender identity behind her mother’s back.

Jessica Konen filed a claim last week against the Spreckels Union School District, two teachers and a principal seeking damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress and civil-rights violations over policies she says allowed the staff to prod her daughter into identifying as transgender starting in sixth grade.

“These are the disgusting behaviors and tactics of predators, who have abused their role as trusted authority figures to our children,” Ms. Konen said in a Thursday statement issued by the Center for American Liberty, which represents her.

Center CEO Harmeet K. Dhillon said parents have “the right to know what is going on in their child’s school.”

“They invited kids, including Jessica’s daughter, to be in this club, and they told these kids, do not tell your parents, and specifically Jessica’s mom, do not tell them, they cannot be trusted,” Ms. Dhillon said on Fox News’ “The Ingraham Angle.” “They gave them reading materials about transgenderism. They secretly changed the pronouns, but when in front of the parents, referred to their children by their birth pronouns. Behind the parents’ back, in the school, [they] used their new identity. All this was done secretly.”

The district came under fire over reports that teachers led an Oct. 29-31 workshop at a California Teachers Association conference on how they “totally stalked” students in recruiting for the Equality Club, also known as UBU as in “you be you,” at Buena Vista Middle School in Salinas.

The district reacted by placing the teachers on administrative leave in November pending an independent investigation and suspending the lunchtime club, although it has since been reinstated.

An emotional Ms. Konen accused the district of allowing the teachers and principal to indoctrinate her daughter at a Dec. 15 school board meeting in a video that went viral, declaring, “You took away my ability to parent my child, even before I had any knowledge.”

The school district said Friday that the teachers remain on administrative leave and that the claim would be handled through legal channels.

“Privacy laws prohibit the district from any further communication on the investigation as it relates to personnel matters,” the district said in an email. “The claim submitted by Ms. Konen will be addressed in the appropriate manner within the judicial system. We are currently reviewing and updating our policies and procedures regarding student clubs and will bring those draft policies to the Board of Education as soon as feasible.”

The claim and statement of facts submitted last Wednesday by Ms. Konen are required prior to the filing of a lawsuit under the state’s Government Claims Act.

The Washington Times also has reached out to the California Teachers Association for comment. 

Ms. Konen‘s statement said that starting in 2019, the teachers recruited her daughter, then 11, for the club and “planted” the idea that she was transgender and bisexual, even though she did not understand those terms at the time.

They also encouraged the student, identified in the lawsuit as “A.G.,” to assume a new name and use it at school, but warned her not to tell her mother because she “might not be supportive and that she couldn’t trust her mother,” the claim said.

In seventh grade, they helped the student fill out a Gender Support Plan, which included access to a unisex bathroom. School employees began referring to the student by her new male identity, but in front of her mother, they used the student’s female pronouns and birth name.

The school ultimately called in Ms. Konen to inform her about her daughter’s new identity. She signed a document, in an effort to be supportive, that allowed her child to go by an “a.k.a.” name on the attendance roster, but said the school “went further” by changing the student’s name on formal records such as report cards.

“It was presented to the mom as a fait accompli,” Ms. Dhillon said.

After the district moved to remote learning in 2020, however, the student was distanced from school personnel and “began to return to her old self.” She transferred to a different district last year and now goes by her original name and female pronouns.

Even so, the student is “confused about issues relating to her sexuality and gender, and she believes that Respondents caused this confusion.”

“A.G. believes that she was pressured by [the teachers] into portraying a character they created, a character that, by being inhabited and hidden from her mother, has taken on elements of reality that A.G. must now learn to understand and live with,” the claim said. “A.G. also believes that Respondents tried to turn her mother against her, and that her relationship with her mother has been seriously damaged.”

In October, the teachers hosted a workshop at the the teachers association’s LGBTQ conference on “How We Run a ‘GSA’ [Gay-Straight Alliance] in Conservative Communities,” saying they used Google to scout candidates for the club and avoided maintaining a roster to keep parents in the dark.

Abigail Shrier, author of “Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters,” obtained an audio recording of the meeting and wrote a Nov. 18 article about it on Substack headlined “How Activist Teachers Recruit Kids.”

“We got to see some kids in-person at the end of last year, not many but a few,” said one of the teachers, according to the article. “So we started to try and identify kids. When we were doing our virtual learning – we totally stalked what they were doing on Google, when they weren’t doing school work.”

In addition to placing the teachers on leave, the Spreckels school district responded by requiring sign-in sheets for clubs; prohibiting teachers from monitoring students’ online activities; and requiring staff to show parents materials with “sensitive themes” before sharing them with students.

“Again, the comments, ideas and principles shared within this article do not align with any [Spreckels Union School District] policies or practices, nor was SUSD aware of any of the practices outlined in the article prior to its publication,” the district said in a Nov. 19 statement. “SUSD believes each and every family is a crucial part of their students’ education and the conversations in classrooms and on our campuses should be open, honest and without prejudice.”

One of the teachers defended the presentation last month in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, describing the club as a safe space for students and the conversations as student-led. The teachers have received violent threats.

The teacher described the stalking comment as “tongue in cheek.” The school uses GoGuardian to monitor students’ computer activity for safety reasons during remote learning, she said, but teachers do not have access to students’ private social-media posts, messages and emails.

There are legal limits on what California schools may disclose about transgender students without their permission, even to parents.

“[I]f you’re not ‘out’ to your parents at home, and you can reasonably expect that they’re not going to find out, then school staff can’t tell your family that you are LGBTQ without your permission,” the ACLU of Southern California said in its post “LGBTQ students: Know Your Rights.”

A letter signed by 37 state and local elected officials and trustees defended the UBU Club, saying that LGBTQ student groups “to foster community and safety among students takes lifesaving importance.”

“It is also why so many of us have watched the events unfold in the Spreckels Union School District that have led to the disbanding of the “You Be You” LGBTQ+ student group with alarm,” the open letter said.

In a Jan. 7 statement, the Spreckels Union district said it had restored the UBU Club.

“On-campus student clubs are and will continue to be a vital part of the culture at our schools,” the district said. “Now that we have returned from winter break, it will be a top priority to ensure that clubs like UBU will continue to be available to students, and that our policies pertaining to student clubs are clear, communicated, and effective.”

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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