New law says California schools must provide gender-neutral bathrooms

California

Amid a bevy of parental notification policies appearing in California school districts — policies that compel school staff to inform parents if their child may be transgender — a new law will require the state’s public schools to ensure gender-neutral restrooms are accessible for students in the coming years.

Signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom over the weekend, Senate Bill 760 requires each school district, as well as charter schools and county education offices, to provide at least one gender-neutral bathroom for students by July 2026.

Sen. Josh Newman, D-Fullerton, said the legislation came after he heard from a constituent with a transgender high school-age child who had expressed challenges with using the restroom. That student is part of a working group formed by the Orange County Department of Education that focuses on access to gender-neutral restrooms, the catalyst for the bill, he said.

“This became an issue to the point where this would accrue not only anxiety and emotional challenges but also the physical problems as well,” said Newman.

“It is about solving a problem, a problem that affects a lot of young people,” he said. “It is hard enough to be in high school and walk through adolescence — even more with the additional challenges of being in this community. And it is not just going to the bathroom, it is this continual worry about being harassed, outed or stigmatized in some way.”

This new law is not about ideology, said Newman, but basic convenience for students.

“The one thing I found encouraging about this process when moving through the legislature was that it did not get caught up in a lot of the controversy that is currently happening in schools with the LGBTQ+ community. It had bipartisan support and the discussions regarding this bill were refreshingly absent of the opposite strides regarding these issues,” said Newman.

Several school districts in Southern California in recent months have adopted what’s been called parental notification policies, or requirements to inform parents if their child might be transgender.

These policies, generally, stipulate that parents would be alerted if their child requests to use different names or pronouns or requests to change sex-segregated programs (like athletic teams or changing facilities) that differ from the student’s “assigned biological sex at birth.” The policies also include notification guidelines if a student reports self-harm, suicidal ideation or injury to others.

Chino Valley Unified School District was the first of several districts in California to enact a parent notification policy after a contentious four-hour meeting in July. The policy was temporarily blocked by a judge, however, and usage of gender-neutral bathrooms would not trigger parental notification if it is reinstated, said Andrea Johnston, CVUSD’s communications director.

The district’s parental notification policy, Johnston said, is only triggered by the use of a sex-segregated restroom or changing area.

“If a student is seeking access to a sex-segregated bathroom or changing facility that does not align with the student’s biological sex or gender listed on the birth certificate or other official record, then parental notification is required,” said Johnston.

In Orange Unified, the first district in Orange County to adopt a parental notification policy, a certificated staff member or principal would inform parents if their child under the age of 12 requests to use different names or pronouns or asks to change sex-segregated programs. If the student is older, it is up to the discretion of a school counselor or psychologist to decide if they think it is appropriate to report the information safely to the family.

Nowhere in the written policy does it state if a parent will be notified if a student decides to use a gender-neutral bathroom.

No OUSD board members responded to requests for comment Monday.

The bill does not impact Murrieta Valley’s parental notification policy, according to a statement by district spokesperson Monica Gutierrez. However, it “greatly impacts our operational budget,” and the district is “assessing the number of restrooms districtwide that will need to be modified or added to comply with the unfunded law.”

Temecula Valley spokesperson Jimmy Evans did not respond to requests for comment Monday about whether, in light of the new bill, students’ use of gender-neutral bathrooms will result in a parental notification.

Earlier in the year, a feud developed between Newsom and the Temecula Valley school board’s conservative majority after they voted to suspend the use of a social studies curriculum over concerns about the supplemental materials’ inclusion of slain gay-rights activist Harvey Milk. The board eventually approved the curriculum — except for the fourth-grade unit mentioning Milk, which was withheld for review.

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This month, Temecula Valley’s board also banned most flags, which some said targeted LGBTQ+ pride flags, and rejected a resolution to affirm LGBTQ+ students’ rights.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles Unified has provided gender-neutral restrooms for its students since 2014, said district spokesperson Shannon Haber.

“We applaud Gov. Newsom’s efforts to ensure equity and dignity for all students across the state as some districts seek to restrict access,” said the Haber. “Los Angeles Unified will continue fighting for equality for our students, employees and families.”

Capistrano Unified, Orange County’s largest school district, is set to discuss a parental notification policy during its Oct. 18 board meeting.

Newsom signed the bill as part of a larger package supporting LGBTQ+ rights in California. Other bills included setting deadlines for school staff to undergo LGBTQ+ cultural competency training, making minors’ court petitions to change their sex and gender identifiers confidential as well as requiring the state to convene a task force to identify needs of LGBTQ+ students.

“California is proud to have some of the most robust laws in the nation when it comes to protecting and supporting our LGBTQ+ community, and we’re committed to the ongoing work to create safer, more inclusive spaces for all Californians,” the governor said in a statement. “These measures will help protect vulnerable youth, promote acceptance, and create more supportive environments in our schools and communities.”

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