South Western transgender bathroom policy raises even more questions

Meredith Willse
York Dispatch

Students of the Hanover-area South Western School District would have five options for which bathroom or locker room they use under the district's latest policy proposal concerning gender identity.

In response to efforts by several parents and one board member to restrict transgender student bathroom use, district officials drafted a new policy concerning school facilities.

The policy put forward Wednesday night would split the two current gendered options into five: male and female facilities based on sex assigned at birth, male and female based on gender identity and single-user gender-neutral facilities.

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“The idea behind the policy is that every student would have three choices,” said the district's solicitor, Leigh Dalton, referring to the larger division between gendered and gender-neutral options.

The South Western Board of Education meeting in Hanover on Wednesday, Apr. 26, 2023.

Many details for how such a system would work — including how many bathrooms would be available, how they would be designated and how much renovations would cost the district — remain unclear.

LGBTQ advocates, meanwhile, suggested the district choose a simpler, more cost-effective option: gender-neutral bathrooms. If privacy is a concern, they could be retrofitted with floor-to-ceiling dividers. District officials, however, appear to have dismissed those suggestions.

Superintendent Jay Burkhart, who helped develop the latest policy draft, said after the policy is approved, he would work with each building principal to designate bathrooms and would share those plans with the board. He hoped to address the issue of potentially sending students on long trips across their school to use the restrooms.

Superintendent Dr. Jay Burkhart at the South Western Board of Education meeting in Hanover on Wednesday, Apr. 26, 2023.

Earlier this month, the board rejected a more restrictive policy similar to Red Lion's in an 8-to-1 vote.

Naomi Asper, a transgender woman and founder of Pride Hanover, said the proposal is worrying because it's still discriminatory and is "fueled with segregation."

Among other questions, she wondered who would patrol bathroom usage, how they would enforce children's gender identity and what would happen if a transgender adult used the facilities while at the school.

"They can't speak on behalf of the trans community if they're not a part of the trans community," she said.

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Asper said all of the district's problems would be solved by turning all bathrooms gender-neutral, noting a gag from the film "Hidden Figures." In that story, inspired by the real-life experiences of NASA employee Katherine Johnson, female employees had to run 30 minutes across campus to use the bathroom because the only available facilities were segregated.

Naomi Asper, from Hanover, speaking at the South Western school board meeting regarding transgender students’ bathroom and locker room usage in Hanover on Wednesday, Apr. 12, 2023.

At the meeting, board member Vanessa Berger asked if the location distribution would be equitable. Specifically, she was concerned with some of the definitions used in the proposal.

Dalton responded that the policy is written in such a way that it can be adaptable to each student's specific identity and situation.

Berger expressed concern over the policy line “students who violate the privacy of other students will be disciplined” and asked if staff will be included. 

Burkhart said that would be addressed in other policies and handbooks. 

Board member Matthew Gelazela, who put forth the more restrictive policy earlier this month, asked whether parents would be consulted by the district as to their child's gender. 

Dalton advised that staff would be instructed to talk to the student about their gender identity and ask if the parent knows. Eventually, he said, that would lead to a conversation with the parent. Elementary school-aged children would not be able to make such decisions about what bathroom they chose to use, he added.

That answer raised even more complications.

Asper said outing a student to their parents is problematic. LGBTQ people, she said, deserve to come out on their own terms, and it's not right for the school to put students in that position.

"Kids do have rights," she said. 

President Ray Mummert at the South Western Board of Education meeting in Hanover on Wednesday, Apr. 26, 2023.

Gelazela, meanwhile, said parents — not students — should get to decide which bathroom their child uses.

After some discussion, board President Ray Mummert said the policy still needed work. 

Burkhart said the administration would look into the questions surrounding notification of parents and student rights.

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Gelazela also asked the board if they can decide on a statement to send to the federal government during the currently open comment period about Title IX’s proposal concerning transgender athletes. He said the window closes May 6. Noting that he is “probably in the minority,” he said he wanted to restrict transgender students from participating in sports.

Board member Amanda Weaver said she felt uncomfortable drafting a response without knowing the details of the proposal. 

Burkhart suggested the district ask the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association to take a stance. 

Mummert told board members they should send their feedback to him.

You can read the proposed facilities policy below:


— Reach Meredith Willse at or on Twitter at @MeredithWillse.