More York County schools consider anti-transgender policies amid national furor
Several York County school communities are scrutinizing their policies when it comes to transgender students, following the lead of Red Lion's "emergency directive" and anti-trans legislation nationwide.
In December, the Red Lion Area School Board forced its trans students to “follow the birth certificate” or use a gender-neutral bathroom option. Now, officials in South Western School District are expected to consider a similar policy at its April 12 board meeting.
“This subject is one that we will be working on for some time to arrive at a workable solution for all involved,” Ray Mummert, South Western's board president, said in an email. He declined to provide further specifics.
Questions surrounding how schools accommodate trans students — as well as allegations of bullying against them — have cropped up in a number of districts recently, including Central York and York Suburban.
MORE:As part of $3M settlement, police deny responsibility in Vicosa sisters' deaths
MORE:'Why can't we have our own mind?': Central York speaks out on book ban
MORE:Northeastern High School's renovation hits a new snag: Missing insulation
Rainbow Rose Center President Tesla Taliaferro said he's heard rumblings about more anti-trans policies — and not just at South Western — for at least the last few weeks.
“We truly hope the board does enact a policy that allows for individualized plans based on the needs and desires of those students,” Taliaferro said in an interview. “Recognizing that those students aren’t going into facilities to cause problems, but truly just to take care of their own personal needs.”
The York Dispatch could not immediately confirm districts other than Red Lion and South Western that were considering LGBTQ policy changes but has documented open discussions at various school boards during this academic year.
Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania and a number of other states have introduced bills restricting trans students from joining athletic teams, using restrooms and having access to gender-affirming health care. On Wednesday, Kentucky state lawmakers passed one of the nation's most restrictive anti-trans laws over a veto from that state's governor. On the same day, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice signed a bill banning hormone therapy and reversible puberty blockers for those under the age of 18.
Amid increasingly heated anti-trans rhetoric locally and nationwide, activists are planning a protest Friday in front of the state Capitol in Harrisburg for the International Transgender Day of Visibility.
In South Western, more than a dozen people spoke out publicly about the district's treatment of trans students during the March 22 school board meeting. The board voted to consider implementing a new policy at its next meeting, on April 12.
South Western School Board Regular Meeting - March 22, 2023
Various students and district residents spoke out, some in favor of more restrictive policies against trans students and others against new restrictions.
During the meeting, board member Matthew Gelazela said the district doesn’t have a written policy and believes the board should make one.
Gelazela said he spoke with the superintendent about the policy and was told the district follows policies about Title IX and discrimination against students and uses legal guidance of Doe v. Boyertown Area School District.
In that lawsuit, a cisgender student claimed in 2017 that the school district violated his privacy by making a policy that allowed transgender boys to use the bathrooms and locker rooms they identify with. The courts sided with the school’s policy. The Supreme Court did not take any action on the case in 2019, allowing the lower courts' ruling to stand.
The board voted to discuss the topic and take action at its next meeting.
“Transgender rights are front and center on many people’s minds,” Taliaferro said, noting that restrictive policies propagated in statehouses around the country are now turning up in local school districts.
Please consider subscribing to support local journalism.
Earlier this month, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a law that prevents transgender people from using the bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed a similar law that will go into effect this summer, according to The Associated Press.
North Carolina also restricted which bathrooms trans people could use in 2016, a law that was met with protests and boycotts. That state eventually repealed the law.
The Human Rights Campaign noted that more bathroom ban bills were introduced so far this year than in any previous year. Additionally, lawmakers have sought to ban drag performances, as Tennessee recently did; remove LGBTQ subjects from school lesson plans; and restrict trans youth from medical care.
“The push to restrict the rights is trying to force transgender people to be invisible,” Taliaferro said. “They don’t want us to exist.”
He added that trans students are far more likely to be assaulted by their cisgender peers, despite the fears of some parents.
MORE:'Miracle on Ice' team captain to be keynote speaker for Manufacturers' Association event
MORE:Residents wary as $2.1B dam project begins a long approval process
MORE:Juvenile arrested after York City shooting incident
Taliaferro said the center will continue supporting transgender and gender-diverse populations in local school districts.
At the South Western board meeting in March, residents also expressed concerns about the district's practice of deleting videos from the school’s YouTube channel. At the end of the meeting, board member Amanda Weaver suggested that the board implement a policy to keep meeting videos online for one calendar year — a policy change that the board passed.
Five board members' seats are expiring and will be on the ballot this year. Four incumbent board members — Mummert, Amanda Yiengst, Jay Cloupsy and Thomas Zimmerman — filed to run again.
A rally for equality in schools is scheduled for 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Friday in front of the Pennsylvania State Capitol. For more information about the event, visit the Facebook event page at https://www.facebook.com/events/222952096854422.
The next board meeting is at 7 p.m. April 12 at 225 Bowman Road in Penn Township. It can also be streamed on the district's YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCugCEWfq-TSNuwYJBBM8vSg.
— Reach Meredith Willse at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @MeredithWillse.