York County schools discuss transgender bathroom directive

David Weissman
  • Federal directive on transgender bathroom access: York City and York Suburban discussing policies.
  • West Shore and Southwestern York have current anti-discrimination policies in place.

Several York County school districts are still discussing potential policy changes resulting from a federal directive on transgender bathroom access, while others are comfortable that their current policies are sufficient.

People protest outside the North Carolina Executive Mansion in Raleigh, N.C., Thursday, March 24, 2016. North Carolina legislators decided to rein in local governments by approving a bill Wednesday that prevents cities and counties from passing their own anti-discrimination rules. North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory later signed the legislation, which dealt a blow to the LGBT movement after success with protections in cities across the country. (AP Photo/Emery P. Dalesio)

Public schools must permit transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their chosen gender identity, according to an Obama administration directive issued amid a court fight between the federal government and North Carolina.

The guidance from leaders at the Justice and Education departments says public schools are obligated to treat transgender students in a way that matches their gender identity, even if their education records or identity documents indicate a different sex.

"There is no room in our schools for discrimination of any kind, including discrimination against transgender students on the basis of their sex," Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement accompanying the directive, which was being sent to school districts on Friday, according to The Associated Press.

Policies: Margie Orr, president of the York City school board, said her district is looking at the issue but hasn't come up with a solution yet.

Orr said she hadn't heard any complaints from parents or students on the school's policy on transgender bathroom access, but she wasn't sure what the district's current policies entailed. She added that she was certain transgender bathroom access would be discussed at the district's school board meeting on Wednesday.

Ellen C. Freireich, a York Suburban school board member, said she had also heard her district would be working on a policy to assure compliance.

Guidance: The Justice Department on May 9 sued North Carolina over a bathroom access law that it said violates the rights of transgender people, a measure that Lynch likened to policies of racial segregation and efforts to deny gay couples the right to marry.

The guidance does not impose any new legal requirements. But officials say it's meant to clarify expectations for school districts that receive funding from the federal government. Educators have been seeking guidance on how to comply with Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in educational programs and activities that receive federal funding, Education Secretary John B. King said in a statement.

Ryan Argot, a West Shore School District spokesman, said his district had no specific policy relating to transgender bathroom access, but it doesn't allow any discrimination within the schools.

South Western School District Superintendent Barbara Rupp said her district will continue to follow its current policies forbidding discrimination and harassment.

The district subscribes to a policy service from the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, and Rupp said the district would likely consider any policy changes based on its recommendations.

Texas won't comply: In Texas, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said on Friday that the state was ready to forfeit federal education money, currently about $10 billion, rather than comply with the guidance.

"We will not be blackmailed by the president's 30 pieces of silver," he said. "The people of Texas and the Legislature will find a way to find as much of that money as we can if we are forced to."

Rupp said South Western would comply with a directive from the U.S. government.

"We count on those federal dollars to help us meet our responsibilities with education," she said.

Rupp said it was sad that transgender students were being put in the spotlight with this issue.

"It's already not an easy thing for these students to deal with," she said.

York's transgender community facing workplace discrimination

Trans woman: Tara Stark, a 21-year-old transgender woman living in York City, said she sees the federal guidelines as a necessary anti-bullying measure.

"Bathrooms and locker rooms are already a place where a lot of cisgender students are bullied," Stark said. "If you throw in being trans, it can get crazy, especially with students who look and act like women in the men's room."

Stark, who was perceived as cisgender — one whose gender identity conforms with the one they were assigned at birth — throughout high school in Montgomery County, said public bathrooms are still terrifying for transgender adults.

"We're terrified of drawing attention to ourselves," Stark said. "We just want to go in, do our thing, no chit chat, and get out."

Stark said people's fears over transgender bathroom access are unwarranted because there are still laws against rape and voyeurism, both of which could unfortunately occur regardless of laws requiring transgenders to use bathrooms consistent with their sex assigned at birth.

"We're misdirecting our fears onto a minority population because of the unknown," Stark said.

Stark said fear-mongering lawmakers are also using the transgender bathroom issue to strip other groups of their rights.

Stark pointed to Houston, where a broad anti-discrimination ordinance was rejected after the phrase "No Men in Women's Bathrooms" was plastered on signs and emphasized in television and radio ads before the vote, according to a New York Times article.

"The spotlight is on trans people in bathrooms ... but most people that are affected are not trans, and that troubles me," Stark said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

— Reach David Weissman at or on Twitter at @DispatchDavid.