Red Lion postpones public forum about transgender students

Meredith Willse
York Dispatch

Red Lion Area School District officials postponed a planned public forum on transgender student use of bathrooms due to "growing safety concerns," although they did not elaborate.

On Tuesday, the district's schools were placed on lockdown for an hour as state police arrested a 19-year-old accused of pointing a gun at another person less than a half mile away. The man was found in possession of a BB gun, according to police.

It's not clear, however, that the Tuesday incident had any connection to the school's recent efforts to restrict the use of bathrooms and locker rooms by transgender students. Neither school officials nor the state police responded to requests for comment.

The district originally planned the forum for Monday after community members spoke out at several successive school board meetings, expressing concern about transgender use of bathrooms. Its school board issued an emergency directive requiring transgender students to use the bathroom that corresponds to the gender on their birth certificates or, alternatively, to use a gender neutral bathroom, such as in the nurse's office.

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According to the district, officials are aware of six trans students out of a total student population of about 1,450. Until recently, the schools had taken a more inclusive approach to public accommodations.

A feedback link where people can leave written remarks will remain active until Jan. 2, the district announced Thursday.

In that announcement, the school noted that it was exploring ways to restrict public comment only to members of the district community. Further details are forthcoming, according to the school.

Red Lion Area Senior High School after the lockdown was lifted due to a potential gunman was found in the area in Red Lion on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2022.

“What was meant as a place to hear the voices of Red Lion Community, the forum needs to be restricted to ensure as best as we can, that it’s only voices of Red Lion we are hearing,” the message read.

School officials did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.

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In response to the new restrictions and the forum, the Rainbow Rose Center was organizing a rally an hour before the forum was supposed to begin. 

“We are rallying to show support for the RLASD LGBTQIA+ student body so they know that they are not alone in this situation,” said Tesla Taliaferro, the LGBTQ organization's president.

The rally was also postponed because of the forum being pushed off. Taliaferro said they will be ready to rally in January, adding there will be a virtual meeting to explain what is happening at the school district and to plan for the rally. The details will be announced later. Taliaferro said to follow their Facebook page, Facebook.com/rainbowrosecenter, for information.

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Taliaferro said they heard Moms for Liberty of Lancaster planned to be there, as well. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday, in the wake of the school's postponement.

Officials at the local and state level have repeatedly said there's little guidance for how to handle these issues, a contention that was contradicted by the Education Law Center in a public statement Wednesday. The group cited federal case law in two Pennsylvania district courts that it said granted transgender student the right to use the bathroom that aligned with their gender identity.

"Policies that infringe on this right, like the directive implemented at Red Lion Area School District, put trans students at great risk," said Kristina Moon, a staff attorney at the center. "They are already a particularly vulnerable group of students, and it is the school’s responsibility to ensure they have access to safe and affirming learning environments."

— Reach Meredith Willse at mwillse@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @MeredithWillse.