Lobbyist says she was harassed by current Pa. lawmaker, wants legislature to change misconduct rules

Red Lion residents fume over district's transgender policy

Meredith Willse
York Dispatch

Community members continue to raise questions about the Red Lion Area School Board's emergency directive concerning its transgender students — and its delayed plans for a public forum.

Stephanie Smith, a parent of one of the district's at least six known transgender students, asked if the board would give parents an opportunity to speak on the subject.

At Thursday night's meeting, Board President Stephen Simpson said school officials are still working on event details. He bristled when Smith described the event as canceled.

“The town hall was postponed,” Simpson said. “It wasn’t canceled. There’s a big difference and we’re still working on the details, so we’ll get back to you.”

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On Dec. 1, school officials 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.

Red Lion high school's homecoming in Red Lion on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022.

The district had also announced a public forum on the issue, initially scheduled Dec. 19. Within days of the forum, however, the district announced the board postponed the forum because of safety issues. A new date has not been announced.

Eric Haywood, who is married to board member Donna Haywood, said there should be a new date given when an event is postponed. If not, he said he considers it “canceled until further notice.”

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Haywood asked the board to raise their hands if they voted to postpone or cancel the forum.

When none of them did, he added: “I don’t see any hands.”

Eric Haywood speaks about Title IX during the public comment portion of Red Lion Area School District’s Board of School Directors meeting at Red Lion Area Education Center in Windsor Township,Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022.  Dawn J. Sagert photo

Haywood pointed out there weren't any board meetings after Dec. 1, raising concerns about the lack of transparency around the cancellation. He specifically wondered whether there was a behind-the-scenes vote on the matter.

“Again, I say ‘liar, liar, pants on fire,'" he said, adding the lies aren't doing the public any good.

The community deserves an apology for the whole affair, Haywood said.

Social worker Kimberly Preske also questioned the board's emergency directive. The Dec. 1 meeting surprised and left her with questions. 

“I closed my screen that night and spent an hour and a half in tears that night,” she said.

An all gender restroom sign at Archetype Pizza in York City, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022. Dawn J. Sagert photo

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Preske said the district's schools are no longer safe for LGBT students. 

“This policy is not a good policy,” she said, adding that her mouth hung open when she heard school community members try to justify the policy because another district isn’t being sued. 

The other district she referenced was Hempfield School District, which made a policy in July that prevents transgender athletes from joining teams that correlate with their gender identity. 

Last month, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania warned that Red Lion's transgender policy was "putting the school district at serious risk of liability."

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In other news, the board voted in Troy Engle, a 2001 Red Lion graduate and former police officer in Lancaster County. While he was an officer, he also served as a school resource officer and taught active shooter response training. He said the district’s response to a Dec. 13 lockdown was good from the parents' point of view, explaining it was fast and there was a lot of communication.

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