Bill Essayli had no chance of getting one of his first bills through the California State Assembly.

Mr. Essayli, a freshman Republican lawmaker, wanted parents to be notified if their child asked to change gender identities at school. His bill drew attention, but died without a hearing in a State Legislature run by a Democratic supermajority.

So, Mr. Essayli and his conservative allies tried a different venue: local school boards.

In July, the board overseeing the Chino Valley Unified School District, which serves a diverse, middle-class area about 40 miles east of Los Angeles, adopted a version of Mr. Essayli’s proposal. At least six other districts around the state have followed suit.

“We sort of shifted and said, ‘Well, they’re not going to let us hear it in Sacramento, but we believe this is a good policy,’” said Mr. Essayli, who represents an area of the Inland Empire near Chino. “And so we’re going to move forward with a school district policy.”

Republicans have almost no power in California’s state government or its largest cities, but they have found traction in a handful of suburbs where parental frustrations have percolated since the pandemic.

In several school board meetings around the state, the same debate has played out over the past few months. Some parents insist that they have a right to know everything about their child’s school experience, from the materials being studied to the bathroom being used. They have been joined by political activists and, in many instances, Mr. Essayli.


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