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The Rocklin school board will work with the conservative legal group for a transparent reporting policy

The Rocklin Unified School District Board of Supervisors voted Wednesday night to enter into a legal agreement with the Liberty Justice Center in its ongoing legal battle with the California Department of Education.

Four members of the five-member board voted Wednesday to work with the group, which has offered to represent the district pro bono, after CDE filed a mandate against the district in April demanding that RUSD remove board members for the parental notification policy to withdraw. passed last fall. The policy requires school staff to notify a student’s parents if a student requests to use a name or pronoun that does not correspond to their biological sex.

The Chicago-based Liberty Justice Center, which represents several conservative institutions and advocates for conservative causes. bills itself as a “nonprofit, nonpartisan, public interest organization committed to protecting economic freedom, private property rights, freedom of speech, and other fundamental rights.” The organization currently represents the Chino Valley Unified School District in Southern California, where the school board adopted a similar parental notification policy last August.

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Promoting a ‘political agenda’

Michelle Sutherland, elected to the Rocklin board in 2022, was the lone dissenting voice Wednesday night. She was also the only board member to vote against the parental notification policy last September. She told her fellow board members that she wished they would drop the issue, either by rescinding the policy or informing students and parents that they will not enforce it while the courts decide the legality of such policies.

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“We don’t need to put our community through this again,” Sutherland said, referring to the Sept. 6 marathon rally that lasted well into the early morning of Sept. 7. “It’s already in court. People are tired of this. Responding through lawsuits will only increase your political influence.”

Sutherland said her conservative colleagues on the board “cherry picked an out-of-state company that is going to tell you exactly what you want to hear.”

“Liberty Justice Center … is a company that views all aspects of this issue through a political lens that aligns with the majority of the board of directors.”

The organization “will use our community and the name of our district to raise money for their cause,” she said. “They don’t provide these services out of kindness. They do it to advance this political agenda.”

About 50 community members attended Wednesday’s meeting, and 13 spoke about the Liberty Justice Center’s action item. Only two spoke out in support of the potential legal deal.

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“Getting your own counsel is the American way,” said James Jenkins, a Roseville resident who has no children in the district.

Most who spoke during public comment did so in opposition to the board’s proposal.

“As an attorney myself,” said Jessie Nibley, a parent of students in the district, “I would tell any client to run and not walk away from a company that offers something like this.”

Nibley agreed with Sutherland and shared his concerns about the organization using Rocklin to “serve their agenda, as clearly stated on their website, through sophisticated strategic, precedent-setting litigation.”

“I know you’re not listening”

A sentiment shared by many who spoke during the public comment is the fear that the conservative-majority board members made a decision before hearing from community residents.

“I know you’re not listening to me,” said Rex Carpenter, who has lived in Rocklin for more than 30 years. “But for me, silence is not an option.”

Rex Carpenter, a Rocklin resident with a granddaughter in high school, began the hours-long public comment period during the Rocklin Unified School District Board meeting on Wednesday, September 6, 2023, by saying, “I am here tonight to ask you not to to do harm,” advocating for young people in vulnerable home situations.  He opposed a policy that requires staff to notify families within days after a student chooses to be identified by a name, nickname or gender that does not match enrollment information or is not a

Board Chairman Tiffany Saathoff, chief of staff to Republican Assemblyman Joe Patterson and a former pastor at Rocklin’s Destiny Church, told the community Wednesday night that just because the board thinks differently than community members doesn’t mean they aren’t hearing their constituents. .

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“I really hear and understand the concerns when they come up,” Saathoff said. “I know how frustrating it can be to share something and not feel heard because a decision went in a different direction. Sometimes I get bullied for talking too much, but I hope that by communicating my ‘Why’, hopefully the community shows that I’m listening, and while I may not agree with that, I feel like our whole community has the right to know why decisions are made.”

Saathoff said she wants to remain transparent with the community and seek as much legal guidance as possible on the issue of student privacy and parental involvement.

“I fully support student privacy in our school systems,” she said. “I think this becomes difficult for me when we suggest that student privacy is independent of a parent, especially five-year-olds, six-year-olds and seven-year-olds. And for that reason, I think it is important that we get clear, legal clarification on this issue.”

The board, which has shown no indication that it will rescind the parental notification policy, subsequently voted 4-1 in favor of the legal agreement.

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