Adreya Harden was a 15 year old student at Wyoming Valley School District and the West Side Career and Technical Center in Luzerne County. She was also a transgender teen who faced indescribable violence and bullying from her classmates, her school, and the community.
The school district and teachers refused to use her name, insisting on referring to her by her deadname. She was not permitted to enroll in a cosmetology program by school officials. In response to this request, her school counselor told her she would “have a hard time fitting in” and enrolled her in the food marketing and distribution program. She missed so many days due to the bullying that the school charged her with truancy, a charge the judge dismissed based on the bullying.
During her sixth and seventh grade years, the school arranged for private tutoring after hours but withdrew that support during COVID-19.
On Oct. 5, 2021, Adreya died by suicide. And on October 5, 2023, her mother Sa’Raya Harden filed a federal lawsuit claiming the Wyoming Valley School District and the West Side Career and Technical Center did not do enough to curb the bullying and support Adreya, which contributed to her death. The lawsuit presented 12 counts revolving around discrimination under the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clauses, violations under Title IX, deliberate indifference to the bullying, intentional infliction of emotional distress and gross negligence.
Both the Wyoming Valley School District and the West Side Career and Technology Center have policies against bullying and harassment. The tech school obliges employees to report bullying and involve its Title IX Coordinator when harassment on the basis of sex occurs. However, the tech center did not follow its own policy, the lawsuit said.
The school district, meanwhile, did not have a Title IX policy in place and did not have a suicide prevention policy in place, according to the law firm.
The West Side Career and Technology Center’s policy prohibits “bullying” and “cyberbullying” but does not address bullying on the basis of sex, gender, sexual orientation or gender non-conformance.
The Wyoming Valley School District’s anti-harassment policies addressed harassment related to sex and sexual orientation, but never clearly extended that definition to harassment on the basis of gender or gender non-conformance.
It is important to consider the cultures surrounding these schools. The incessant anti-trans rhetoric spewed by the rightwing machine in the communities where the students live. In 2020, former President Trump wins Luzerne County by 15%, During the pandemic years under scrutiny, Pennsylvanians brutalized then Pennsylvania Secretary of Health, Dr. Rachel Levine.
Adreya had support from her family. That’s a key protective factor for trans youth along with access to appropriate health care. But school is also important and that’s where we all failed this young woman.
Adreya deserved to go school free of violence and harassment. She certainly deserved to pick her own education trajectory if she met the qualifications applied equally to other students. She deserved to celebrate her birthdays and move into adult life without fearing for her life at school. Wyoming Valley School District and the West Side Career and Technical Center both failed her and should be held accountable so they can change. Kudos to her mother for bravely taking on this task.
As we head into the General Election in Pennsylvania, many school board seats are up for election and we should all be asking those candidates about LGBTQ competent policies, school safety, book bans, and more. If you are outraged that this child died in part because her school district did not value her welfare, you need to vote the bastards out who make or fail to make these policies. We have an obligation to Adreya Harden’s memory.
And a special level of shame on the Pennsylvania media outlets who deadnamed Adreya (using the name assigned at birth) in their coverage of this lawsuit. How much more obtuse and vicious could you be?
Rest in power, Adreya. You deserved so much, especially to be free of despair and abuse in your school. We must do better for other trans and nonbinary students, for all LGBTQ students. I hope your mother’s pursuit of justice in your name paves the way for a brighter future.
May your memory be a revolution.