Conejo Valley mom Carrie Burgert calls herself a “wallflower” who is non-confrontational by nature. But today, Carrie — who grew up locally as the daughter of a beloved Thousand Oaks High School teacher — is a plaintiff in a lawsuit with potentially massive national implications.
“They [local school leaders] messed with my kids,” Carrie told the Guardian. “I have no choice but to keep going with this because of how egregious their behavior is.”
The lawsuit, filed November 4 by nonprofit group Protection of the Educational Rights of Kids (PERK), contends that Conejo Valley Unified School District (CVUSD) leaders violated California law which explicitly states that instruction must be “age appropriate” and presented in a way that is comprehensive, “medically accurate and objective.”
The complaint cites California Education Code Sec. 51933, which says, “All comprehensive sexual health education and HIV prevention education pursuant to Section 51934, whether taught or supplemented by school district personnel or by outside consultants or guest speakers pursuant to Section 51936, shall satisfy all of the following criteria:
(a) Instruction and materials shall be age appropriate.
(b) All factual information presented shall be medically accurate and objective. …
(e) Instruction and materials shall encourage a pupil to communicate with his or her parents, guardians, and other trusted adults about human sexuality and provide the knowledge and skills necessary to do so.”
CVUSD has done the opposite, says Amy Bohn, PERK co-founder and president, hiding sex-ed materials from parents and creating documents that encourage and enable students, staff and teachers to withhold critical information about a child’s psychology and sexuality from parents.
The lawsuit asks for “a judicial declaration that ‘Teen Talk,’” the highly controversial sex-ed program the school board chose to adopt, “violates California law and thus cannot be taught to children who attend school in the District.” It also requests “a judicial declaration that the District has been conducting highly sexualized and age-inappropriate surveys of students without following the parental notification/consent procedures” and seeks “permanent injunctive relief prohibiting the District from using the ‘Confidential School Success Plan’ in its current manner.”
“Sex-ed is mandated, but it doesn’t need to be pornographic in nature,” says Shawn Burgert, Carrie’s husband. “We want this age-inappropriate content removed from the schools and replaced with age-appropriate sex education that’s medically accurate.”
The Burgerts, who have lived in the Conejo Valley for more than 40 years and have two children currently in CVUSD schools, heard about the Teen Talk controversy last year. Shawn began attending and speaking at school board meetings while Carrie watched and waited.
“I’m the type of person that sits back and collects facts and data,” she says. “Even though what I was hearing was upsetting, I need concrete evidence if I’m going to speak.”
Then the California Healthy Kids Survey was released in January, presenting middle schoolers with questions about sexuality, illicit drugs, drinking, smoking and suicide — but local parents could not read the survey because the link the district emailed didn’t work.
“I thought, this is how they’re hiding things from us,” Carrie recalls.
She brought it up with the principal at her child’s school, then contacted the district office, but no one could offer a working link to the survey. At a school board meeting, superintendent Mark McLaughlin accused Carrie of “mis-clicking,” she says.
Then, in a January 28, 2022, email, Sequoia Middle School assistant principal Kelly Welch wrote to the Burgerts, “My instructions were very clear to not distribute the survey, but offer it for view in person.” This meant any parent who wanted to preview the material had to come to the office and look at it there.
Because the Burgerts had COVID at the time, they were eventually able to obtain a working link — and when Carrie read the survey, her response was immediate: “Hell to the no is my 12-year-old reading this,” she said.
The survey of sixth-grade children starts with questions about self-identification, asking:
“3. What is your gender?
D) Something else
“4. Some people describe themselves as transgender when how they think or feel about their gender is different from the sex they were assigned at birth. Are you transgender?
A) No, I am not transgender
B) Yes, I am transgender
C) I am not sure if I am transgender
D) Decline to respond
“5. Which of the following best describes you?
A) Straight (not gay)
B) Lesbian or Gay
D) Something else
E) Not sure
F) Decline to respond”
The survey then devotes four pages to a child’s personal drug use, with questions such as:
“During your life, how many times have you used the following?
- A cigarette, even one or two puffs
- A whole cigarette
- Smokeless tobacco (dip, chew, or snuff)
- Vape products
- Vaped tobacco or nicotine Vaped marijuana or THC Vaped other product
- One full drink of alcohol (such as a can of beer, glass of wine, wine cooler, or shot of liquor)
- Marijuana (smoke, vape, eat, or drink)
- Inhalants (things you sniff, huff, or breathe to get “high” such as glue, paint, aerosol sprays, gasoline, poppers, gases)
- Relevan- Any other drug, pill, or medicine to get “high” or for reasons other than medical …”
The survey continues, “During your life, how many times have you been …
- very drunk or sick after drinking alcohol?
- “high” (loaded, stoned, or wasted) from using drugs?
- drunk on alcohol or “high” on drugs on school property?”
“During your life, how many times have you used marijuana in any of the following ways:
- Smoke it?- In a vaping device (vape pens, mods, or portable vaporizers)?- Eat or drink it in products made with marijuana?”
The survey probes, “In a normal week, how many days are you home after school for at least one hour without an adult there?” And, “Do you consider yourself a member of a gang?”
Alarmed by the content and the explicit and unscientific material in Teen Talk, the Burgerts began showing up at school board meetings to make comments, request conversations and try to achieve some level of understanding and change. The board’s response?
“I would say something, and it was like they were giving me the big middle finger,” Carrie says. “They have never once reached out to us parents, not one board member, not the superintendent.”
Meanwhile, other issues erupted in the district — a teacher promoting transgender ideology to a class of third-grade students at Maple Elementary without any parental notification or input. And a disturbing episode, witnessed by an entire classroom of children including the Burgerts’ daughter, of a male student masturbating in class, an incident the school district ignored and finally claimed was “not substantiated.”
These events hit the national news, and video clips from CVUSD school board meetings, including one of McLaughlin seeming to normalize in-class masturbation, were viewed by millions on national programs and online media. McLaughlin then suggested to an Acorn reporter that he was considering filing a defamation suit against local parents — trying to blame them for his own statements somehow.
Enter Amy Bohn and PERK — the legal powerhouse behind reversing the Los Angeles Unified School District COVID shot mandates and a principal opponent helping to defeat seven statewide pieces of legislation involving parental rights and medical freedom. Bohn lives in Ventura County but was mostly unaware of the CVUSD situation until this summer when she “started getting phone calls and text messages, and people tagging me to say something’s going on here,” she says.
“Fortuitously,” she was on a Zoom call with parents and activists in Loudon County, Virginia, who had successfully pushed back against aggressive sexualization of kids in their own school district.
“They told me they really want to help California with these same issues,” Bohn says.
“They asked, ‘Are there any situations in California you’re aware of that might be something all of us can take on, litigate and fight back?’ I said, ‘I think there is.’”
She contacted Steve Schneider, the “Maple dad” whose third-grade daughter was exposed to pro-transgender ideology in January, along with the rest of her classmates. Schneider has since become a local and statewide leader promoting parental rights.
“I wanted the facts about what happened with the district to [the Schneiders and Burgerts] as parents,” Bohn says. “When I heard the full story from their perspective, I was floored about multiple things. Floored that the attempts Steve and Carrie had made to resolve the situation appropriately weren’t being received well but returned with defamation types of threats, dismissing what they had to say and acting like it didn’t happen.”
Bohn says even more pertinent were the ways the school district has been breaking the law.
“CVUSD is violating parental rights and safeguards that are there to protect the kids,” she says. “They are doing things that are illegal by pushing forward curricula that are not medically and age-appropriate and not giving parental notification as required by law.”
The fundamental question she says is, “Do you believe the government and/or a school district should be able to ‘transition’ a child’s gender using puberty-blockers, gender-reassignments surgery, all disguised under support plans and surveys they are giving to minors — kids 12, 13, 14 years old — without parental knowledge and consent?”
Furthermore, “Do you believe a child is capable of making a body-altering health decision and/or treatment that’s irreversible with all the consequences that come with that? Do they have the capacity as a minor to comprehend all that can entail?”
She warns that in other parts of California, health clinics are already popping up next to public school campuses to provide puberty blockers for gender reassignment.
“This is the beginning of a battle that every single parent, every aunt, every grandparent, every pastor — we need all hands on deck to support what we’re doing. Or we will lose this generation,” she says.
According to the legal complaint, “California law requires that school districts notify parents at the beginning of each school year about the health and sexual education instruction, if any, that their child will receive that year. This notice must, among other things, advise the parents that they have a right to inspect the material that will be taught to their kids.”
In the case of Maple Elementary’s third-grade teacher suddenly promoting gender dysphoria to her classroom, “Parents did not have an opportunity to inspect the material, nor were parents notified when ‘Call Me Max’ was taught to a classroom of 8-year-old kids,” reads the lawsuit. “This exposure to transgenderism ideology happened in the classroom, without parental consent or notification, and violated the legal requirements for such content.”
“Similarly,” it continues, “the District has been providing students of different ages with a questionnaire called the ‘Confidential School Success Plan.’ The questionnaire asks students many invasive questions, including their preferred name and gender, versus their legal name and biological gender, and their preferred pronouns. It also asks students to identify their parents by name and then asks them to explain whether their parents know about their preferred name/gender and are supportive. This highly invasive questionnaire was not sent to parents before the District provided it to students and, on information and belief, the District has a policy of withholding the completed questionnaire from parents.”
The lawsuit spells out how the CVUSD school board adopted Teen Talk in 2021 against the recommendation of an advisory committee of teachers and parents who reviewed several health/sex education programs. The board could have chosen a more-moderate, broadly acceptable curriculum but instead pushed through Teen Talk, “a controversial curriculum that, among other things, promotes sexual activity by children, promotes high-risk sexual behaviors like anal and oral sex and promotes trans ideology while encouraging kids to withhold information from their parents,” according to the lawsuit. “The curriculum emphasizes the removal of parent involvement in many sections, including with phrases that say: ‘Do not need parent permission.’ And it teaches medically inaccurate information about abstinence and gender, suggesting that those are old-fashioned concepts that are not socially acceptable anymore.”
The results were predictable, says the lawsuit, with Teen Talk “leading to a highly sexualized school environment, combined with a new district dress code allowing children to wear bra tops to school and gluteals to be seen out of shorts, which led a student to masturbate in class, in front of other students, without any repercussions. This oversexualized and age-inappropriate environment has even trickled down to lower grade levels. For example, after being exposed to transgender ideology in her classroom, a third-grade girl was pressured by her friends, for weeks, to ‘cut her hair and be a boy.’”
The lawsuit continues, “In response to these complaints, District officials have lied and falsely attacked parents while concealing information about how these sensitive, and in some cases controversial, subjects are being taught. Indeed, the only people who have faced any repercussions are parents like Plaintiffs who, after learning of this inappropriate behavior, complained and, in some cases, spoke publicly about it. The District’s superintendent retaliated against both Plaintiffs, including by dismissing the incident that Ms. Burgert’s daughter witnessed and falsely suggesting she had lied about it. The District went after Mr. Schneider even more aggressively, falsely accusing him of and other criminal acts after he exposed the transgender discussion in his daughter’s third-grade classroom.”
“These actions are unlawful,” the complaint reads. “Schools have an obligation to teach health and sex education to kids. They do not have the right to teach kids about woke political issues that are, at best, medically unsettled and certainly not age appropriate. And, regardless of what school boards want to teach, they must respect the fundamental right that parents have to control their kids’ upbringing.”
The lawsuit calls the district’s use of the “Confidential School Success Plan,” including its policy of withholding the questionnaire from parents, “a serious invasion of Plaintiffs’ privacy rights.” It concludes, “Collectively, these rules recognize the State’s interest in providing kids with age-appropriate and medically accurate instruction while acknowledging that ‘parents and guardians have the ultimate responsibility for imparting values regarding human sexuality to their children.’ Id. § 51937,” it reads.
Bohn says the basic issue is that “The school district does not own the kids.”
“Children do not have fully developed brains,” she told the Guardian. “They are not equipped to make decisions without their parents, and they can be easily manipulated and coerced, especially by people in authority, without their parents’ knowledge and consent. We can’t ever lose that sacred relationship between parent and child. It is not meant to be messed with.”
PERK filed the suit in Ventura County on Nov. 4, and Bohn expects the school district to either dispute the claim or try to get the case dismissed.
“We want the judge to declare that the curriculum Teen Talk violates California law and can’t be taught to kids,” she says. “Second, we’re asking the judge to declare that in the case of this school district, they did not give proper notification to parents that they’re supposed to. Then we’re asking the judge to also declare that the school district is participating in highly sexual age-inappropriate surveys without parental notification and consent. All three things need to be stopped.”
PERK has won major cases in the past 18 months, sparing millions of California schoolchildren from receiving COVID shots to attend school and saving the jobs of city firefighters in Los Angeles, Beverly Hills and San Diego. If successful, the lawsuit against CVUSD would help establish precedence for school districts in other California cities and counties.
Co-plaintiff Schneider, who has two children, 9 and 13 years old, in CVUSD schools, says it didn’t need to come to this. He has given his phone number to school district leaders repeatedly but never received a call.
“The lawsuit had to happen,” he says. “As a parent, I tried to be reasonable and speak with the school and the school board and found they were unreasonable. … If someone had addressed my concerns in the beginning and spoken to me like a human being, I would have said, ‘Okay.’ … [But] this board has no intention of listening to anyone, especially if you’re in opposition.”
Bohn calls it “ironic” that the school district’s animosity toward parents brought greater public awareness — and legal scrutiny of bigger issues at stake.
As for Carrie, when opponents accuse her and Shawn of wanting to “dismantle” public education, she reminds them that her own father began teaching at Thousand Oaks High School in 1974, coached the baseball team and was beloved by his students. Her mother worked at California Lutheran University, and her best friends these days are in public education.
“For them to say I’m against public education is offensive,” says Carrie.
But public education serves parents, not the other way around, she and Shawn insist.
“Many parents have stood up and said we’re not okay with this — and the district leaders don’t care. So we are going to force them to care,” Carrie says.