ELANCO School Board Meeting

Glenn Yoder (center), the former Elanco School Board president, announced he will run against Rep. David Zimmerman in the 99th state House District.

 

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The fight over the privacy rights of students in a southeastern Pennsylvania school district is over. Meanwhile, a similar battle closer to home is quieting down.

A high-profile lawsuit lodged against Boyertown Area School District by a group of students over privacy concerns in bathrooms and locker rooms was dropped Thursday. The students had argued that the district was unconstitutionally violating their privacy by allowing transgender students to use facilities that align with their gender identity.

This comes four months after the U.S. Supreme Court passed on the case following an earlier decision by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled in favor of the school district and its bathroom policy.

It also comes a month after Eastern Lancaster County School District kicked off its school year with a controversial student privacy policy that states students must use facilities that align with their biological sex while the district works on adding private areas to change and use the restroom.

The policy garnered support from residents who were troubled by the district’s initial decision to allow a transgender high school student, who was born female but identifies as a boy, to use the boys’ bathroom and locker room. But it sparked protests from other parties who said the policy violated civil rights laws.

There has been no legal action against the district, as of Monday.

“Things have been thankfully quiet here related to this issue here since the school year began,” Superintendent Bob Hollister said.

This summer, Elanco enlisted the help of attorney Randall Wenger, chief counsel of the Independence Law Center, to defend the district if it were to face a lawsuit. The center — a public-interest law firm affiliated with the Pennsylvania Family Institute — represented the group of students suing Boyertown.

Wenger told LNP the complaint against Boyertown was dropped because “the students who experienced a loss of privacy in the locker rooms and restrooms graduated.”

On Elanco, Wenger said the district “is within its rights to separate places where students enter some form of undress on the basis of anatomical sex.”

“Our anatomical differences,” he added, “are the very reason separate spaces have long been accepted norm.”

The American Civil Liberties Union — which, along with the Pennsylvania Youth Congress, defended Boyertown and has criticized Elanco for its stance — has a much different perspective.

“The only problem with Elanco’s policy is that they want to give choices to some students and not all students,” said Mary Catherine Roper, deputy legal director with the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

“When schools respect transgender students, that doesn’t take away anybody else’s rights,” she added. “And nobody has the right to take away somebody else’s choices.”

Hollister said he has not been in contact with the ACLU. The transgender student’s family, he said, has reached out to Hollister “several times” over the last 11 months. Those conversations have mostly been “cordial,” he said.

The goal right now is to move forward with the addition of private facilities districtwide, he said, starting with a potential $1 million renovation to the high school locker rooms.

The school board this summer rejected its initial design, citing security concerns. Hollister said next steps should be taken in October.