California lawsuit says teachers manipulated pre-teen into a transgender identity and deliberately concealed it from parents

A California mother is taking legal action against a Monterey Bay-area school district, claiming two teachers convinced her daughter that she was transgender, a subject the sixth grader knew little about. It’s just one more indication that parental trust in public schools is waning.

Since child labor laws were passed in the 1930s, the basic expectation in American society is that children attend school. If they don’t, there is an entire profession dedicated to tracking them down and hauling them back to class. While truancy officers keep kids in school, parents take a leap of faith to send them there in the first place, handing over their children to educators during a child’s most vulnerable and formative years.

This balance of trust leads to some difficult questions. When students sit down at their desks each day, to what extent should teachers shape their academic development versus social and emotional development? And how much say should parents have?

The debate of parental involvement has gained steam during the pandemic, as remote learning in the home gave parents a much clearer picture of what their children had been learning, and how. For example, some parents have protested the teaching of The 1619 Project as an authoritative viewpoint of American history. Some take issue with Critical Race Theory-inspired exercises that separate children by race, even though the media commonly denies this. And others are up in arms over school policies that normalize and encourage gender fluidity in prepubescent children—the reason this California mother is now taking legal action. 

In the lawsuit, Jessica Konen says that her daughter, “A.G.,” a sixth grader at Buena Vista Middle School in Salinas, California, was manipulated by teachers into believing she was transgender, and then encouraged by these teachers to hide this new gender identity from her mother. 

The teachers named in the lawsuit, Lori Caldeira and Kelly Baraki, ran the school’s Equality Club. The club was where the teachers allegedly planted the seed in the pre-teen’s mind that she was bisexual, and later, transgender. According to the lawsuit, these ideas “did not originate with A.G., nor did A.G. fully understand what it meant. At the time, A.G. was pre-pubescent.”

The manipulation described in the suit matches the strategies outlined in a recent workshop led by the same two teachers. In December, The Lion reported that the two teachers led a Californian Teachers’ Association workshop entitled “How We Run A Gay-Straight Alliance in Conservative Communities.” In this workshop, the leaders taught fellow educators how to keep LGBTQ+ clubs and their members confidential. Proponents say this subversion is necessary to allow students to explore their gender identity safely, away from disapproving parents. But where do school district policies, and the law, draw the line?

The Spreckels Union School District, also named in the lawsuit, had adopted a “Parental Secrecy Policy,” which, true to its name, is not visible on the school district website. This policy states that “teachers and staff would keep secret from parents that their children had articulated confusion about their gender identity…unless the student expressly authorized the parents to be informed.” 

In the case of A.G., teachers and administrators began using male pronouns and calling her by a male name, “S.G.,” in addition to encouraging her to use the teachers’ unisex restroom. But they used her original name and feminine pronouns when speaking with her mother. A.G. was also instructed to “not tell her mother about her new gender identity and expression.” Not long after, A.G. began counseling sessions at school due to feelings of depression and stress.  

Caldeira, one of the teachers named in the suit, believes it’s important to keep these issues from parents. “As middle schoolers, that’s the age where they are asserting their identity and defining themselves as a separate entity from their parents. And so they are looking, I think, for some guidance,” she said. “What happens in this room, stays in this room.” 

When in-person learning shut down in 2020, the lawsuit alleges A.G.’s teachers still attempted to influence her by monitoring her internet activity. Nevertheless, A.G. began to return to her former self after being physically removed from the influence of these teachers. Now in high school, she uses her original name and female pronouns. She “believes that she was pressured  by Ms. Caldeira and Ms. Baraki into portraying a character they created,” the consequences of which she “must now learn to understand and live with.”

The lawsuit is still in its initial stages, and the debate of parent involvement in schools rages on. For this mother, it’s not about gender expression at all; it’s that educators would deliberately deceive a parent, absent of any suspected abuse at home, and shut parents out of the conversation at such a crucial point in the lives of their children.