Attorneys for two Christian teachers in California who blew the whistle on their school district's gender policies are seeking civil contempt sanctions against the school for allegedly keeping them from safely returning to work in violation of a court order.
Elizabeth Mirabelli and Lori Ann West, who taught for decades at Rincon Middle School in Escondido, sued the school, the Escondido Unified School District (EUSD), and the California Board of Education in April over its policies regarding students' gender identity, which they allege required them to hide gender dysphoria from parents in violation of their Christian faith and First Amendment rights.
The policy stipulates that "any district employee to whom a student's transgender or gender-nonconforming status is disclosed shall keep the student's information confidential." According to the suit, the teachers were told to use students' preferred names and pronouns in school, but to use their given names when speaking with their parents.
Mirabelli claimed that she discovered from the school counselor that the name and gender of some students were being changed in official school records without parental knowledge or consent, according to Fox News Digital.
Records obtained by Fox News Digital also showed that EUSD staff were instructed in February 2022 during an internal training presentation that a student's "assertion is enough" to determine gender identity, and that there is "no requirement for parent or caretaker agreement or even for knowledge for us to begin treating that student consistent with their gender identity."
After bureaucratic wrangling, Mirabelli and West were provided partial religious accommodations regarding how they refer to trans-identifying students in school, but sued after they were denied exemption from the policy regarding parental knowledge, according to the suit.
Both teachers were placed on paid administrative leave after they raised concerns about the policy, with West being placed on leave involuntarily and Mirabelli requesting leave after facing what she alleged was severe harassment at work. Both women claim they have effectively been kept from returning.
Their inability to return lingers despite a preliminary injunction issued Sept. 14 by Judge Roger Benitez of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, who ruled that EUSD cannot enforce its gender policy against the two women while the case remains pending.
The judge also mandated that EUSD "restrain any governmental employee or entity from taking any adverse employment actions thereupon against Plaintiffs Mirabelli or West, until further Order of this Court."
Benitez also blasted the policy to which the teachers objected, claiming it "harms the child who needs parental guidance and possibly mental health intervention to determine if the incongruence is organic or whether it is the result of bullying, peer pressure, or a fleeting impulse."
Neither the EUSD nor Rincon Middle School responded to CP's request for comment by the time of publication.
Attorney Paul Jonna, who is representing the teachers on behalf of the nonprofit Thomas More Society, told The Christian Post he was "very, very reluctant" to demand civil contempt sanctions against the school, and that he waited after two months of repeatedly asking the school in vain for good faith action.
West, who worked as a physical education teacher at Rincon, told CP that she was placed on leave pending an investigation into an administrative complaint filed against her by a student she taught five years ago.
She claimed that the complaint, which emerged shortly after the September injunction, was "suspect and bogus," and noted that the school told her it was sent after-hours on a Friday night.
"I kind of think it's suspect that any 17-year-old girl is all of a sudden thinking about Mrs. West from five years ago [on a Friday night]," West said. "And I feel that this was influenced by some adults who are manipulating these children."
Mirabelli echoed West's suspicion that adults are behind some of the malicious behavior from the students. She had to go on administrative leave in May after being bullied as a sexist, racist, homophobic, hater, "old hag," and accused of potentially being responsible for trans suicides, according to a sworn statement she signed in May.
She added that her classroom was plastered with hateful posters apparently made by young students, but which she believes involved other school staff. The next day, a video circulated at the school showing approximately 20 students during a band class singing a song about self-acceptance while wearing pride flags, which she took as a message aimed at her.
She told CP that she believes the response of the school to how she was treated is inadequate and unfair.
"If that happened to a transgender member of our staff, or someone who has a unique gender identity, I question whether or not they would have treated it in the same way as an attack on someone who holds a Judeo-Christian worldview," she said.
"Let's say a transgender employee filed a lawsuit that they were being discriminated against, and I made a video with all these biblical symbols and sent it to the entire staff," she said. "I would have been fired."
"I don't think that the teacher who's responsible for that video, and the teacher who's responsible for the posters, has received any verbal warnings or anything like that," she said. "That's why I feel uncertainty about rejoining the community, because I don't think they're taking my concerns as seriously as they should."
In October, the two discovered that a protest was being organized against them using "REMIND," a smartphone app by which students and teachers can communicate with each other. "Once joined, they could see the organizers of the protest and everybody involved," according to the complaint. "Unsurprisingly, Plaintiffs discovered that Rincon Middle School personnel were involved in the protest."
Jonna said he specifically asked the school to ensure that Mirabelli would not be targeted or harassed for her religious beliefs, and to provide a contact person for her should any issues arise. He also requested assurance that employees who violate professional standards of conduct will be disciplined, and asked the school to monitor and provide oversight to any protests.
"So there was no response to those requests, and our position is that's also a violation of the order," Jonna said. "They're not doing what's necessary to allow her to return safely."
Jonna said he remains unsure what is motivating school administrators to behave as they allegedly have.
"I think what they're doing is completely irrational, probably intentional, and it's openly defying a court order, which is something that is very serious," Jonna said. "And I think that we waited as long as we reasonably could, but I don't know what's motivating them to act like this. It's irrational."
Both women told CP that they loved their jobs and want to return.
"It makes me pretty upset. I love my job, and I want to go back," West said. "I felt like I never should have been put out of my job. And I want to go back more than anything."
Mirabelli said the situation has caused her intense anxiety and emotional pain.
"Lori and I have worked in this very school district for decades," Mirabelli said. "So we know our community well, and we have a lot of friends and colleagues there. And for me, it's so difficult for me to be at odds with people who I care about. It's really tough for me."
Jon Brown is a reporter for The Christian Post. Send news tips to email@example.com