Red Lion Area School Board owes answers

York Dispatch editorial board

It’s been more than 40 days since the Red Lion Area School Board announced a new policy concerning transgender students, and district residents are getting understandably impatient awaiting explanations.

The board issued what it called an emergency directive on Dec. 1 mandating that the district’s half a dozen or so transgender students use either a bathroom corresponding to their gender at birth or a gender-neutral bathroom, such as those located in a school office.

But other than a vague reference to “growing safety concerns,” the district hasn’t elaborated on the reasoning behind this new rule, which, among other drawbacks, might have the unfortunate if unintended consequence of drawing unwanted attention to transgender students.

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Acting Superintendent Eric Wilson, left, and Board President Christine Crone during 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

A public forum on the policy, initially scheduled for Dec. 19, was nixed and has yet to be rescheduled. Frustration with the lack of information from the district bubbled over at last week’s regular board meeting with those in attendance pressing the board to set a date for the public hearing.

They’re right; that meeting is overdue.

The new policy, which district officials have described as temporary, has come under fire from district parents, social workers and LGBTQIA+ support groups like the Rainbow Rose Center. And the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania has warned that the policy may be unconstitutional and leave district officials “at serious risk of liability.”

On the other hand, opponents of accommodating transgender students have been just as vocal. The new policy was implemented after several parents approached the board with concerns about trans students.

To be sure, guidance from state and federal officials has been less than helpful. Court cases and legal challenges elsewhere in the state and across the nation have yet to create a consensus on public policy. Indeed, the Pennsylvania School Boards Association recommends districts work directly with transgender students and families to provide safe and supportive environments while staying up to date on what it calls “the evolving legal landscape of students’ rights.”

Still, difficult issues are no excuse for local policymakers to avoid transparency and accountability.

Red Lion Area School District officials invited additional scrutiny when they added the policy item to their Dec. 1 agenda at the last minute. One parent described the actions as “dirty and underhanded.”

The decision to delay a public forum has left district residents largely in the dark about the thinking behind the decision. It has also denied residents — both those in support of the policy and those opposed — the opportunity to directly advocate for their positions.

And let’s not forget: The lives of students are being directly affected. Those students, more than anyone, are owed an explanation.

It is past time to better inform district residents as to the goals of and reasoning behind this new policy. The input gathered at a public forum may also help school leaders decide whether to maintain or revise the policy.

Either way, it’s time to continue this conversation. Publicly.