A mother of a student has taken legal action against a school district in Salinas, Calif., over policies she claims allowed two teachers at Buena Vista Middle School to secretly brainwash her teenage daughter into identifying as bisexual, and later as transgender.
Jessica Konen blasted members of the Spreckels Union School District (SUSD) at a board meeting in mid-December, claiming the teachers, who ran a LGBTQ+ club during lunch-hour, “coached” her then sixth-grade daughter to change her gender identity and use a masculine name and pronouns at school.
Her daughter has since switched schools, returned to using her feminine birth name and gender, and seems to be happier, according to her mother—and no longer showing signs of gender dysphoria.
Harmeet Dhillon, CEO of the Center for American Liberty, which is representing Konen and her daughter, told The Epoch Times on Jan. 19 the case is important to protect parental rights.
“It’s terrible what happened to this family,” Dhillon said.
“Supreme Court precedent has made clear that parents have a fundamental right to direct the upbringing and education of their children, and their right is denied to them when schools keep secrets from parents, especially on matters as foundational as a child’s identity, name [and] pronouns,” she said.
“That’s what happened to our clients. This is a violation of the clients’ civil rights—the parent and the child. Every parent has a right to know what’s going on at school.”
Dhillon accused SUSD and Buena Vista Middle School of adopting a “parental secrecy policy,” to keep parents in the dark about certain information regarding students’ gender expression and identity.
The case, Konen v. Spreckels Union School District, was filed on Jan. 19.
In California, filing a claim under the Government Claims Act is a precursor to filing a lawsuit, so the state has a couple of months to respond to the claim “and either resolve it, or if they don’t then we can proceed with lawsuits,” Dhillon said.
The claim alleges the policy adopted by SUSD “authorizes minor children to make mature, consequential, and potentially life-altering decisions—such as what gender to identify as, what name to be called, what pronouns to use, and what privacy facilities to use—with no notification to or input from parents.”
Teachers Lori Caldeira, Kelly Baraki and the school’s principal, Katelyn Pagaran, are named in the claim. As a minor, Konen’s daughter is referred to only as “A.G.”
“Sometimes, Ms. Caldiera and Ms. Baraki would introduce and push LGBT+ identities on students that the students resisted” and “planted the seed in A.G.’s mind that she was bisexual,” the claim states. “That idea did not originate with A.G. In fact, she did not fully understand what that term meant.”
“We suspect that what happened to Jessica and her family is just the tip of the iceberg,” Dhillon said. “We believe that there is a lot of this going on and this is something that parents should really be concerned about.”
Konen told The Epoch Times about her experience after a leaked audio recording of the teachers at a California Teachers Association (CTA) conference revealed Caldeira and Baraki encouraging other teachers to hide the nature of Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) clubs from parents.
The CTA’s 2021 LGBTQ+ Issues Conference, “Beyond the Binary: Identity & Imagining Possibilities,” was held in Palm Springs, Calif., from Oct. 29 to Oct. 31. There, Caldeira and Baraki led a workshop called “How we run a ‘GSA’ in Conservative Communities,” at which they described the obstacles they faced in concealing the activities of LGBTQ+ clubs from parents.
At Buena Vista, the GSA club—the “Equality Club”—was renamed the “You Be You” or “UBU” club, one teacher said in the audio clip obtained by The Epoch Times.
The teachers also suggested that parents who refuse to call their child by pronouns of the child’s choosing should be arrested and charged with child abuse, according to a source who attended the conference.
In the audio clip, the teachers talk about spying on students’ online searches and activity as well as eavesdropping on their conversations to identify and recruit sixth-grade students into these LGBTQ clubs whose membership rolls are kept hidden from parents.
“We totally stalked what they were doing on Google,” one of the teachers said.
The teachers have since been suspended with pay pending the outcome of third-party investigation, according to a recent statement from SUSD.
A previous statement from Superintendent Eric Tarallo, SUSD Board President Steve McDougall, and Buena Vista Middle School Principal Kate Pagaran said the teachers were using personal leave to lead the workshop at the CTA conference and that they weren’t officially presenting on behalf of the school district.
“Many of the comments and themes stated in the article are alarming, concerning, disappointing, and do not in any way reflect the District or the Board of Education’s policies and practices,” the Nov. 19 statement reads.
However, the CTA and the California Department of Education have issued guidance to teachers about how to talk to students about sexual orientation and gender identity issues without their parents knowing about it, Dhillon said. “That’s the official policy of our California government.”
But California is not the only state that has trampled on parental rights. It’s happened in many other states, she said. “You have governors, and other public officials saying that parents don’t have a right to control their children’s education.”
“I, as a taxpayer, certainly do not sign up for my tax dollars being used to indoctrinate otherwise healthy children with fears and questions about their identity, and certainly parents don’t sign up for that either. And so, we are standing right next to those moms, and all parents,” Dhillon said.
Celeste Fiehler, deputy director of ParentUnion.org, urged more parents to come forward and expose the actions teachers’ unions have taken to subvert parents.
“Parents have been gaslighted,” Fiehler told The Epoch Times.
Fiehler applauded Konen for having the courage to fight for her daughter and rights as a parent.
“I’m extremely proud of Jessica and all parents who are speaking up while risking everything to protect children,” she said.