Transgender children in a Western Pennsylvania school district face new challenges after a DC based law firm filed in a complaint Friday with the U.S. District Court for Western Pennsylvania. These attorneys are with America First Legal. This group, founded by Trump senior advisor Stephen Miller, is the same group that paid for spewing anti-trans advertising on local radio stations in 2022.
The suit claims that Pine-Richland school district policies that protect the privacy of students, including transgender issues, violate the rights of parents to make decisions about their children.
The policy at the heart of the matters is designed to allow students to keep their transgender identity private. School officials must obtain student consent before notifying parents of any changes to their gender expression, including the use of pronouns different from those used at home or a name that better aligns with their gender identity. It also allows students to meet with a support team without parental consent. School districts don’t take these these policies lightly.
These policies acknowledge that some students are not safe in their homes. In some cases, notifying parents or guardians about a student’s gender transition could put a student in harm’s way, noting that district staff “must work closely with the student to assess the degree to which, if any, the parent/guardian will be involved in the process and must consider the health, wellbeing, and safety of the transitioning student.”
A parent identified as Jane Doe in the lawsuit claims the district overstepped her rights to make decisions about the “care, custody, and control” of her child.
It seems intuitive to me that a supportive school environment is a good thing and would help a student connect with their family if they haven’t already done so. Alternatively, if the home environment is not supportive, these policies protect them. There should of course be a distinction between helping a student make solid connections with their family and “telling on them.” School districts do this every day.
Under federal law, parents can view their student’s education records, but legal advocates for transgender youth say schools are not legally required to notify them, nor are they required to document changes to a student’s gender identity.
That’s because outing a student to their family — particularly without their consent — could pose a risk to their wellbeing. According to the Trevor Project, nearly 40% of all transgender youth nationwide have experienced homelessness, often kicked out of their homes or abandoned by family after coming out.
A University of Pittsburgh study from 2020 also reported much higher rates of suicidal thoughts among transgender teens when compared to cisgender adolescents.WESA 90.5 FM
In 2015, three transgender students filed a federal lawsuit over a policy requiring Pine-Richland students to use either a unisex facility or the bathroom that corresponded to their biological sex. That was settled and spurred development of the current policies in 2017.
Right wing groups desperate to undo any and all trans affirming policies have been on a rampage since then, in some cases taking control of school boards through local elections. Pine-Richland’s school board is a majority conservative, 8-1.
What’s preposterous is that “Jane Doe” does not even state that she has a transgender child or a child who actively sought out transgender supports. She’s all ‘what if this” and “what if that” with the idea that some secret cabal is going to convert her hypothetical kid from one who is curious into a full-fledged trans person.
Meanwhile parents of actual trans students are concerned that this lawsuit might erode the rights that are so important to their children’s education and quality of life.
Donna Azar has a son in third grade in Pine-Richland. Although he still identifies as a boy, Azar said he dresses like a girl.
Although it has been safe for her son at her home, Azar said that’s not always the case.
That’s why the district’s policy is so important, she said. “This lawsuit is completely a false narrative,” she said. “The school wants to work with parents. No one is secretly transitioning your kids.”
As we absorb this news, it is important to keep in mind the timeline of events – the elections, the lawsuits, the radio ads and other publicity campaigns, and more. It is just part of a relentless assault on trans and all LGBTQ students. With over 500 school districts in Pennsylvania, vigilance seems overwhelming. But necessary.
According to the ACLU, nationwide there are more than 275 bills targeting LGBTQ rights for 2024 sessions. . In a few days that number increased to more than 300. Upon closer look, Pennsylvania has introduced 3 anti-trans bills. Others are in the pipeline. With narrow control of the PA House and Republican control of the Senate, we must be vigilant.
- HB 319 Parental Rights in Education (Former HB 2813)
- HB 216 Protect Women’s Sports Act (HB 972, 2021-2022)
- HB 138 Gender Affirmation Therapy Statute of Limitations
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