We have finally arrived at a historic moment for transgender student rights in Pennsylvania.
The Great Valley and Springfield Township School Districts have become the first known districts in Pennsylvania to adopt formal policies supporting trans students!
On Monday night, the Great Valley School Board voted to adopt Policy 103.3. Last night, on Tuesday, the Springfield Township School Board voted to approve Policy 253. Both are comprehensive regulations in support of transgender students. The Great Valley School Board introduced Policy 103.3 on March 14, 2016 and adopted their regulation on April 18, 2016. The Springfield Township School Board unanimously approved both the first reading of the policy on March 15, 2016 and the final second reading on April 19, 2016.
The Pennsylvania Youth Congress has been proudly working with a number of districts in support of these efforts for several years. These policies are critical in the work to ensure a safe and successful educational experience for transgender students. In turn, they help entire school communities be lifted up in celebrating all students, regardless of their gender identity or expression.
However, steps backward are being considered by a few school districts. On Monday evening, another three-hour school board meeting took place in the Pine-Richland School District in Allegheny County. While transgender students have been supported by the administration in practice, a network of parents has come together to try and strip away the basic accommodations that have been made for them. An informational meeting on transgender youth will take place in Pine-Richland on Thursday. In addition to the Pennsylvania Youth Congress, THRIVE of Southwest PA and Lambda Legal have been standing with students and community members in Pine-Richland who support the rights and dignity of trans students.
With yesterday’s landmark court win in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, transgender students in Pennsylvania now have critical support in the federal courts. In Grimm v. Gloucester County School Board, a trans high school student in Virginia was supported by his administration in basic accommodations, but then the school board enacted a negative policy to strip them away. When challenged in federal court, the student won. The case was remanded to the district court with the determination that gender identity and expression is a protected class.
Former University of Pittsburgh – Johnstown student Seamus Johnston filed a federal lawsuit in 2013 against the school for gender identity discrimination, before the United States Department of Education’s guidance was issued. While the suit was first dismissed in the Western District of Pennsylvania by Judge Kim Gibson, on appeal, the university settled the claim in March 2016 in recognition of their major movement forward supporting trans students.
The Pennsylvania Youth Congress has reached out to the Pennsylvania School Boards Association and the Pennsylvania Department of Education to better coordinate the advancement of these policies, and meaningfully support transgender students across the commonwealth. The Pennsylvania Youth Congress calls upon the agencies to collectively address supporting transgender students and awaits their response.
We are incredibly proud of the Great Valley and Springfield Township communities for their historic moves in supporting transgender students, and commend the leadership of Great Valley Board President David Barratt and Superintendent Regina Speaker Palubinsky, and Springfield Township Board President Gretchen Slapinsky and Superintendent Dr. Nancy Hacker, in ensuring the policies was adopted. We thank the Attic Youth Center for recently providing LGBTQ-inclusion training to the Springfield Township district.
If school board members or community members in Pennsylvania are interested in any assistance in advocating for a local school district policy supporting transgender students, they are encouraged to directly reach out to the Pennsylvania Youth Congress at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 717-743-1035.
NOTE: On April 22, 2016, this online post was updated to reflect that the Great Valley School District adopted their policy on April 18, 2016, before Springfield Township’s on April 19, 2016. Together they are the first known policies in Pennsylvania. In our wording we celebrated Springfield Township as the first widely and publicly known district to take this action, but acknowledge that Great Valley adopted theirs before on Monday once it became widely and publicly known.