Hempfield school board

The Hempfield school board meets Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. 

Hempfield School District’s superintendent has yet to recommend specific school board action related to transgender students’ participation in athletics despite presenting evidence that a non-inclusive policy could pose a legal risk.

Superintendent Mike Bromirski’s presentation came late Tuesday during a school board meeting that had already included extensive discussion of the state’s mask mandate. The meeting fell about two months after the conclusion of a monthslong deep dive by the school board into whether transgender students should be able to compete with the gender with which they identify.

The school board ultimately did not come up with a solution. Instead, in July, it charged the administration with producing a new athletic participation policy with the help of the district’s solicitor, Fox Rothschild, and the Independence Law Center, a Harrisburg-based law firm with a reputation for opposing LGBT rights in favor of religious liberty.

Bromirski’s first update to the school board finished after LNP’s press deadline Tuesday night.

In his update, Bromirski acknowledged there are many perspectives to and from which the district is trying to listen and learn. Athletic participation has become a polarizing topic within the Hempfield community, with some calling for inclusion and others seeking to preserve what they see as the integrity of sports, particularly girls’ sports.

In addition to that, though, are the political and legal perspectives that ultimately may prove to hold more weight when coming to a decision.

Discrimination and gender identity

This year, Bromirski pointed out, the federal Office for Civil Rights shared an updated interpretation of Title IX, the law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, to include sexual orientation and gender identity. That update followed a U.S. Supreme Court case – Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia – that ultimately decided “it is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating against the individual based on sex.”

Interpretations of Title IX, however, can vary depending on which political party is in the White House, Bromirski said.

There is no statutory or case law precedent directly on the issue of transgender students participating in athletics, Bromirski said.

In April, Republican state Rep. Barbara Gleim, from Cumberland County, introduced a bill – dubbed the “Protect Women’s Sports Act” – that would ban student-athletes assigned male at birth from competing on girls’ and women’s sports teams. Republican Reps. Jim Cox, Mindy Fee, Brett R. Miller and David Zimmerman from Lancaster County are among the bill’s 30 cosponsors. The legislation has failed to make it out of committee.

There is, however, precedent on transgender student use of bathroom and locker rooms that align with their gender identity. Bromirski highlighted three notable cases argued in federal court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania: A.H. v. Minersville Area School District in 2019, Doe v. Boyertown Area School District in 2018 and Evancho v. Pine-Richland School District in 2017.

In all three cases, the court sided with either transgender students or a school district’s inclusive policy. The Independence Law Center represented the cisgender students suing Boyertown Area School District for its inclusive policy, but the school district defeated them.

Bromirski said it’s “difficult to make broad generalizations” based on these outcomes, and it’s important to “dig into some of those cases and ask questions.”

Next steps

The district has also sought feedback from the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, medical providers, students and families, Bromirski said.

The administration is also trying to establish an opportunity for the school board to meet with a local mental health agency as well as someone from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Gender & Sexuality Development program, Bromirski said.

Both school board President Mike Donato and member Linda Johnston have stated they want to prioritize the impact any decision regarding athletic participation may have on students’ mental health.

After Bromirski’s update, the school board thanked Bromirski for his transparency. Bill Otto said he found all the experts the board met with “extremely helpful.”

Vice President Grant Keener asked other board members if they were confident in providing additional guidance to the administration related to a new policy. The school board did not take action, though, mainly due to the fact that mental health remained largely absent from the discussion.

On a follow-up phone call Wednesday, Keener said the administration gave a “terrific” presentation that covered a lot of ground. He said he expects the school board to take the topic up again in October.

The school board is scheduled to meet on Oct. 5 for a committee meeting and Oct. 12 for a regular meeting.

Correspondent Melissa Frost contributed to this story.

What to Read Next