Emily Bartley grew up in Agoura, graduated from Agoura High School, and raised her three children in CVUSD schools — Aspen, Redwood and Thousand Oaks High School — with each child starting in Kindergarten and continuing through graduation. Her family first encountered the bizarre claim that gender can be chosen in 2013 when a middle school boy decided he was a girl and began verbally assaulting her son and others who didn’t agree with him.
“People don’t realize how long this stuff has been going on,” Bartley told the Guardian. “They think it’s a new thing. It’s not new.”
The Conejo Guardian reviewed emails between Thousand Oaks High School administrators and Emily’s family pertaining to the situation. It began in 2013 when a boy in her son’s grade came to school for eighth-grade year claiming to be a girl.
“He was wearing girl[‘s] clothes, growing his hair, wearing makeup,” she says. Worse, the boy “said a lot of horrible, very sexual things at lunchtime to my son and other boys, and the teacher just ignored it. He was sexually harassing them, coming on to my son and his friends.”
The boy proclaimed things like, “I’m on my period today,” and, “You know I have a vagina, right?”
When the boys denied his claims, the boy erupted with obscenities and descriptions of his private parts unfit for a family newspaper. Bartley’s son related these when he got home.
“When your thirteen-year-old is telling you this at the kitchen table, you’re like, ‘What?’” she says.
The harassment continued because the troubled boy felt he was protected by school policy to behave in any way he wanted.
“He would say, ‘You can’t say anything to me. You’ll get in trouble and get a Saturday. You’ll get detention,’” Bartley says. “And he was right.”
According to her children, classmates who disagreed with the boy did receive detentions or Saturday school.
“I think it was such a new concept that the school didn’t know what to do, so they erred on the side of the protected class,” Bartley says.
Having worked for years on yard duty at her kids’ schools, volunteered as a room mom and planned special events, Bartley knew the school staff, and as the sexual-verbal assaults escalated, Emily informed the school. Their response was essentially: “The teacher hasn’t seen or heard anything. School’s almost out, and your son won’t have to deal with this anymore.”
But the problem resurfaced the next year at Thousand Oaks High School in a far more troubling way when the boy joined a sports team and began using the girls’ locker room. Bartley’s daughter and her friends burst in the door of the family’s home one afternoon and exclaimed, “You won’t believe it! There’s a boy in the locker room! He’s in there changing.”
Her daughter had been involved in cheerleading and stunt from a young age and participated in four years of cheer and competition stunt team at Thousand Oaks High. But with a boy in their locker room, dozens of girls were cramming into the six available stalls to avoid changing clothes in front of him.
“They were doing their best,” Bartley says.
She emailed the coach right away, and the coach “was bewildered, surprised and shocked. It was genuine.”
That led to a phone call from the principal at the time, Luis Lichtl.
“He was very apologetic and sympathetic but said, ‘My hands are tied. There’s nothing I can do,’” Bartley says.
Lichtl described a fatherless child whose behavior could endanger his own safety if someone chose to react, she says. But when asked why the coach and girls weren’t warned about this invasion of their privacy, she says Lichtl told her he wasn’t allowed to alert the coaches or the girls on the teams. The school was essentially hamstrung.
“This transgender boy’s rights were more important than the rights of all these other girls,” she says.
Word spread, and parents inundated the principal’s office with complaints.
“My daughter wasn’t the only one running home saying, ‘Oh, my gosh.’ People showed up en masse,” Bartley says. “Parents were lined up outside the office.”
The school’s solution, she says, was to hang privacy curtains in the locker room, which did little to solve the problem. Worse, the boy’s locker was next to the door, making it impossible to avoid him when entering or exiting.
Bartley then described the “appalling thing” she finds “graphic” but necessary to share because “the story has to be told.” The young man asked sympathetic female students “to help him assist him tucking his [male member] into his underwear. He talked about on days he wore a skirt or shorts that he would tape it to his stomach or tuck it in his butt, I guess? He openly discussed the tucking and the taping. The girls were appalled.”
This went on for two months until, for reasons unknown to Bartley, the boy transferred to another CVUSD school. Because of the experience, Bartley became even more involved in school board meetings and on-campus events.
“I learned how they played the game of kicking the can down the road,” she says. “I learned to always quote the law, quote rights, quote a penal code or something about your kids’ privacy rights. ‘Here’s the code that talks about it; here’s the California penal code that states it.’ You have to come at it from this angle. They would see me coming to the office at the high school and be like, ‘Oh, shoot.’”
Once Bartley became informed, she was outraged by the books and messages being pushed on kids by school teachers and administrators.
“A lot of the books were very sexual in a very perverted or deviant way,” she says.
Many promoted sexual experimentation to grade-school kids, and some were written by authors accused of serial sexual harassment and misconduct.
“I’d always thought of myself as a social liberal. Then I became a parent, and it was like, ‘Maybe not,’” Bartley says.
Years later, in 2020, when CVUSD shuttered its schools for months after the COVID outbreak, the Bartley family observed a radical transformation in the before-and-after environment at her youngest son’s school. Many students simply didn’t return to school; among those who did, many now claimed to be “gay” or “transgender.”
“They were locked down, nowhere to go, so they go on social media,” Bartley describes. “They’re like, ‘I hate this, I’m depressed. Maybe I need to be the opposite gender.’ That’s how this happens. Social media is absolutely huge, and the COVID lockdown. We’ve seen all the reports of kids having depression and anxiety disorders. The lockdown was hugely bad for the kids, and social media and other outlets have made [gender dysphoria] trendy.”
With her kids all graduated from CVUSD schools, Bartley continues to participate in school board meetings — and is encouraged by the hundreds now stepping up to say enough is enough for the sake of protecting the kids’ basic rights to privacy and decency.