By bowing to pressure from staunchly conservative, faith-driven residents over its student privacy debate, the Eastern Lancaster County school board may have opened the district up to a lawsuit.
The school board on Monday night approved a new policy that calls for what will most likely be a multimillion-dollar project replacing the boys and girls restrooms and locker rooms with secure, single-user, gender-neutral facilities districtwide.
In situations where such private areas are unavailable, however, an addendum in the policy recommends that students use the facilities based on their biological sex.
That essentially reverses a publicly criticized decision the board made this school year to allow a transgender student at Garden Spot High School who identifies as male to use the boys’ facilities.
“I think we are open to a lawsuit at this point,” Superintendent Bob Hollister told LNP after the board approved the policy during a tense, three-hour meeting with about 300 residents in attendance. “The practice that we had in place was meeting the requirements of the law, as that’s perceived, so it’s unknown what’s going to happen.”
Disagreement within the board
The board voted 6-2 in favor of the policy, dubbed “Physical Privacy.” Board members Rodney Jones and Melissa Readman voted against it. One board member was absent.
“I believe we need to separate reality from perception,” Jones said during the meeting, citing the “reality” that current case law supports a student’s right to choose the facilities that align with his or her gender identity.
Jones requested that the board table the vote until the district’s solicitor, Kegel Kelin Almy & Lord, could examine the full policy. The board proceeded with the vote instead.
The district has subcontracted McNees, Wallace & Nurick to oversee adoption of the policy. Hollister said he’ll send the policy to the McNees firm next week.
The board set an effective date of May 14, a day after the board’s next work session, in case it needs to make changes to the policy between now and then.
School board President Glenn Yoder said he was comfortable with the policy, as it intends to “protect all students’ rights and interests.” The “overall intent” will likely remain after the solicitor reviews it, he said.
Nearly every seat is taken at tonight’s Elanco school board meeting as the district’s student privacy discussions continue. pic.twitter.com/fJOK5M0Pxu— Alex Geli (@alexgeli) April 15, 2019
‘It’s against the law’
Officials from the Education Law Center who have been following Elanco’s student privacy debate expressed disappointment in the policy, particularly the addendum.
“By conflating ‘biological sex’ with sex assigned at birth, the addendum would deny transgender students their legal right to use the facilities with which they identify — contrary to the weight of federal case law," Lizzy Wingfield, the center’s Stoneleigh Foundation Emerging Leader Fellow, said in an emailed statement.
“This is a confusing and troublesome move by the board,” she added, “because in prior meetings, the board itself acknowledged civil rights laws protect the rights of transgender students.”
Hope Adkins-Durante, a New Holland resident who said she’s a friend of the transgender student’s family, shared a similar message in an interview with LNP Monday night.
“It’s against the law,” she said. “They can’t force him to use the girls’ restroom.”
Asked if the family would seek legal action, she said, “We’ll see what happens. We’re not giving up.”
‘A moral battle’
For residents like Stu Martin, an outspoken Christian who feels LGBTQ advocates are “bullying” the school board to enact liberal policies, the issue isn’t about a lawsuit or “dollars and cents,” Martin told LNP.
“This is a moral battle,” he said.
Martin, who called Elanco “the bible belt of a bible belt” and “the most conservative school district in the most conservative county,” said he and others are "trying to protect our children and our children's children in the way of life that we embrace and believe."
“If we can’t have our religious faith here in Lancaster County,” he added, “and if we can’t actually practice it, where will be able to practice it?”