Blindsided Calif. mother sues district, says teachers manipulated her 11-yr-old daughter to change gender

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A California mother has filed a legal case against her tiny school district after claiming teachers secretly manipulated her 11-year-old daughter into changing her gender identity.

Spreckels Union School District was responsible for “extreme and outrageous conduct” that led the student on a path toward transitioning as a boy and drove a wedge between mother and daughter, according to the claim filed Wednesday by a conservative legal group, the Center for American Liberty.

Jessica Konen alleges that two middle school teachers who ran the school’s Equality Club — later known as UBU (You Be You) — planted a seed in her daughter’s 6th-grade mind that she was bisexual and then proceeded to introduce the notion that she was actually transgender.

The legal claim — a precursor to a lawsuit — comes on the heels of a scandal last fall, when Abigail Shrier, author of the wildly controversial book, “Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters,” quoted the two teachers, speaking at a conference about how to run an LGBTQ+ club in a conservative community, in an article.

Sprekels, a mere speck on the map, is an agricultural town in the Salinas Valley, about 90 miles south of San Francisco.

While Konen acknowledges that her daughter has come out to her as bisexual, she was unaware that her daughter was identifying as a boy until December 2019, when she was called into the Buena Vista Middle School principal’s office. Her daughter was, by then, in the 7th grade.

The purpose of the meeting wasn’t disclosed until her daughter entered the room, sat across the table from her mother, and her teacher, Lori Caldeira, broke the news.

“I literally was caught off guard,” Konen said. “I was blindsided. I didn’t even know what to feel like, because I didn’t even know where it cam from.”

Konen said she began to cry, noting that her daughter, too, was caught by surprise. While she had expressed to her teachers that she wanted to tell her mom, she did not know the meeting had been set up for that day.

Konen gave the school permission to use a boy’s name for attendance purposes and tried to be supportive, but, she conceded, it was difficult.

In March 2020, when the schools went to remote learning in response to the pandemic, Konen says her daughter began returning to her “old self,” adding that she now uses her given name.

But Konen found herself questioning how her daughter got on the path towards transitioning after Shrier’s article was circulated around town this fall.

In a leaked recording from a California Teachers Association conference, Caldeira and Kelly Baraki were quoted discussing how they kept meetings private and “stalked” students online for recruits.

“When we were doing our virtual learning, we totally stalked what they were doing on Google, when they weren’t doing school work,” Baraki said. “One of them was googling ‘Trans Day of Visibility,’ and we were like, ‘Check. We’re going to invite that kid when we get back on campus.'”

Neither Caldeira nor Baraki could be reached by The Associated Press for comment, but Caldeira told the San Francisco Chronicle that the quotes were accurate, but taken out of context or misrepresented, adding that the “stalking” comment was a joke.

Caldeira, who was given an award for being a “role model for inclusion,” defended their work, claiming that it was the students who set the agenda, and the teachers were there to provide honest and fair answers to their questions.

Both teachers were put on administrative leave in November. While they had attended the conference on their own time, the district said, “many of the comments and themes stated in the article are alarming, concerning, disappointing” and not reflective of their policies.

A law firm, hired by the district, is investigating the matter, and the UBU club has been suspended.

Konen garnered a round of applause in December, when she blasted school board members at a meeting for allegedly taking away her ability to parent.

Superintendent Eric Tarallo said that personnel policies prevented him from disclosing whether or not the two teachers were back at the school and stated that the legal claim would be addressed in the judicial system. The district was, he confirmed, reviewing and updating its policies on student clubs.

Meanwhile, the California Teachers Association has said the conference was one of dozens each year that, in part, help educators understand the need to protect students from discrimination, including sexual orientation and gender identity or expression, and it criticized the group bringing the lawsuit.

“We are concerned about a political climate right now in which outside political forces fuel chaos and misinformation and seek to divide parents, educators and school communities for their own political gain, which is evident in this complaint,” spokeswoman Lisa Gardiner said. “The Center for American Liberty is concerned with pushing its own political agenda through litigation and has filed multiple lawsuits against various school districts and communities.”

For Konen, of chief concern is how the school kept her in the dark about her daughter’s participation in the club, the literature the teachers provide, and about a “gender support plan” created by administrators. Konen claims her daughter was even instructed on how to make a “binder” to keep her breasts from developing.

“Parents are supposed to have access to all the educational records of their children,” said attorney Harmeet Dhillon, who filed the case. “The concept that the schools have a right to be running secret, don’t-tell-your-parents clubs and don’t-tell-your-parents programs and actively coaching children how to mutilate themselves, which is, you know, not growing your breasts, is certainly not consistent with California law.”

As for her daughter, Konen says she is now doing well in high school.

“She still deals with confusion,” Konen says, but added, “She feels like she can breathe. You know, like she doesn’t have pressure on her.”

Melissa Fine


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