Springfield Adopts First Trans Student Policy in PA, Backward Movement Proposed in Pine-Richland


We have finally arrived at a historic moment for transgender student rights in Pennsylvania.

Springfield Township School District has become the first district in Pennsylvania to adopt a formal policy supporting trans students!

Last night, the Springfield Township School Board voted to approve Policy 253, a comprehensive regulation in support of transgender students. The 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 comprehensive transgender student policy enacted in Springfield – a suburb of Philadelphia – addresses critical areas of educational opportunities. The Springfield policy and those being considered across the commonwealth include privacy rights for transgender students, handling academic records, incorporation in sex-segregated programs, restroom and locker room access, integration in athletic activities, dress codes, and general harassment and discrimination.
The Lower Merion School District, also in Montgomery County, had a first reading of their transgender student policy on Monday. The Pittsburgh School District has recently announced its plans to introduce their policy next month. Several more districts will be introducing their own policies in the near future. Across 500 districts, many schools throughout Pennsylvania have in practice supported transgender students for years, but are now beginning to take the critical steps to enact official policies.

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.

PineRichlandImageHowever, 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.

In 2014, the United States Department of Education issued guidance that gender identity and expression are protected classes under Title IX, through sex stereotyping. Now through Grimm, that guidance has the backing of law through the federal judiciary. This essentially means that students have assurance in successfully bringing a claim or suit against a school for gender identity or expression discrimination.  The ruling yesterday would be persuasive case law for the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, where we are in Pennsylvania.

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 Springfield Township School District community for their historic move in supporting transgender students, and commend the leadership of Board President Gretchen Slapinsky and Superintendent Dr. Nancy Hacker in ensuring the policy was adopted. We thank the Attic Youth Center for recently providing LGBTQ-inclusion training to the 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 info@payouthcongress.org or call 717-743-1035.