ELANCO School Board Meeting

Superintendent Robert Hollister, speaks to the crowd during the Eastern Lancaster County School District board meeting at Garden Spot High School Monday March 18, 2019.

School districts in Lancaster County and beyond have clearer guidelines for serving transgender students after a U.S. Supreme Court decision Tuesday.

The court declined to hear a case against Boyertown Area School District, which was sued by a group of students who argued that allowing their transgender peers to use restrooms that align with their gender identity was unconstitutional.

Tuesday’s action lets stand an earlier decision by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled in favor of the school district. It prompted praise from legal experts who say it’s a major victory for transgender students and the schools that accommodate them.

“Thankfully, today’s announcement allows schools to move forward with policies that support transgender students,” Ria Tabacco Mar, senior staff attorney with the ACLU, said in a statement.

The Supreme Court’s action furthers the debate over the the legality of a controversial student privacy policy recently approved by the Eastern Lancaster County school board. The policy favors separation by biological sex over gender identity.

Biological sex vs. gender identity

The Elanco policy would ultimately create private, single-user facilities districtwide. However, it states that students are to use the facilities that align with their biological sex when single-user areas aren’t available.

The policy goes into effect at the beginning of the next school year. 

“While SCOTUS leadership would have been welcome, the District has chosen a path toward ‘student privacy for all’ regardless, making the SCOTUS decision less relevant at this juncture,” Elanco Superintendent Bob Hollister said in an email.

Hollister did not immediately respond to a followup question on whether Elanco might change its policy in response to the Supreme Court’s decision.

School board President Glenn Yoder and Vice President Rodney Jones declined comment.

Hollister said previously that the administration would not obey the policy’s biological sex provision. Abiding by the policy in full, he said, would likely lead to a lawsuit.

The Education Law Center, a public-interest law firm that advocates for the rights of public school students and has closely followed Elanco’s actions, also weighed in on the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) decision.

“Prior to (the lower court’s) decision, many school districts were confused about their obligations to transgender students under civil rights laws,” Lizzy Wingfield, the center’s Stoneleigh Foundation fellow, said in a statement. “But now, it is clear … that school districts must allow LGBTQ students to be themselves in school.”

Wingfield is calling on the Pennsylvania Department of Education to issue guidance for accommodating transgender students.

‘Bodily privacy rights’

The Independence Law Center — a public-interest law firm affiliated with the Pennsylvania Family Institute — expressed disappointment in the Supreme Court’s denial.

“The lower court’s decision does not protect the privacy of all students, which is why we believe the Supreme Court needed to review this critical case,” Randall Wenger, chief counsel for the Independence Law Center, said in a statement.

“We now urge the Court to take on a similar case in the future to bring much needed guidance to school districts, parents and students on how to handle violations of well-established bodily privacy rights.”