ELANCO School Board Meeting

Eastern Lancaster County School District board President Glenn Yoder speaks at a board meeting at Garden Spot High School in March. 

THE ISSUE

At least a dozen LGBT activists attended an Eastern Lancaster County school board meeting Monday to urge board members to change its controversial bathroom policy, LNP’s Alex Geli reported. “The policy, which goes into effect Aug. 26 — the first day of school — would separate students by biological sex in bathrooms and locker rooms” while private, single-user facilities are built districtwide, Geli explained. “Critics say it discriminates against transgender students who wish to use facilities matching their gender identity.”

We’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: The Elanco school board is failing in its fiduciary duty to keep that school district from facing potentially costly litigation.

The school district’s chances of being sued over its restroom policy increased — yet again — last week when a federal judge in Virginia confirmed the right of transgender public school students to use the bathroom facilities that align with their gender identity. It was the latest in a series of such rulings.

We’ll get to that in a bit.

First, we want to address a question raised in the comments beneath one of the Elanco stories on LancasterOnline. The gist: “What does it even mean to say, ‘I identify as a boy (girl)’?”

We wrote this in February: “To adults who grew up in a world in which gender was sharply defined, the concept may be hard to grasp. Girls were girls, we were taught. Boys were boys.

“Most of us feel comfortable with the sex assigned to us at birth based on our chromosomes and our physical attributes.

“But not everyone does. Sometimes, a child who’s identified as male at birth feels female in every other way than physically. Or a child who’s identified as female at birth feels male through and through.”

This is echoed in the federal ruling issued last week, in which gender identity is defined by a Virginia pediatric endocrinologist as “a person’s innate sense of belonging to a particular gender.”

Both the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association say that transgender identity is not a mental disorder — but discrimination against transgender individuals can damage their health.

This is affirmed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which notes that transgender young people “often confront stigma and discrimination, which contribute to feelings of rejection and isolation that can adversely affect physical and emotional well-being.”

In a policy statement, the academy points out that school “environments play a significant role in the social and emotional development of children. Every child has a right to feel safe and respected at school, but for youth who identify as (transgender) this can be challenging. ... One strategy to prevent conflict is to proactively support policies and protections that promote inclusion and safety of all students.”

One such proactive strategy was already being initiated by the Elanco school board when it green-lighted in April a project replacing the boys’ and girls’ restrooms and locker rooms with secure, single-user, gender-neutral facilities districtwide.

But the school board — facing pressure from community members — also decided that in the interim, students would be required to use the restrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their biological sex.

Which brings us to last week’s federal ruling and what it may signify for Elanco.

Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia ruled in favor of a transgender student who had been prohibited from using the boys’ restroom at Gloucester High School in Virginia.

The Gloucester County School District had violated the student’s rights under the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause and Title IX, the federal law forbidding discrimination on the basis of sex, the judge found.

The judge noted the harm that was done to the young man at the heart of that case — Gavin Grimm — who used the boys’ restroom at the high school for seven weeks without incident until school officials began “receiving complaints from adult members of the community who had learned that a transgender boy was using male restrooms at the high school.”

Does that sound familiar?

The Gloucester County school board then approved a policy requiring students to use the facilities of their “corresponding biological genders.” Transgender students were to be “provided an alternative appropriate private facility,” while single-stall restrooms were constructed.

Some single-user restrooms were indeed built, but they were distant from Grimm’s classes. He felt “stigmatized and isolated,” according to the ruling, and developed urinary tract infections when he ceased using school restrooms. Eventually, his mental distress became so acute that he was hospitalized for suicidal thoughts. (Grimm graduated from high school in 2017, but his case continued.)

All of this transpired because a school board made a decision that was political rather than educational, one informed by emotion rather than legality.

“This Court acknowledges the many expressions of concern arising from genuine love for our children and the fierce instinct to protect and raise our children safely in a society that is growing ever more complex,” Judge Allen wrote. “There can be no doubt that all involved in this case have the best interests of the students at heart.”

This, too, reminds us of the Elanco situation.

But, the judge concluded, however “sincere worries were about possible unknown consequences arising from a new school restroom protocol, the perpetuation of harm to a child stemming from unconstitutional conduct cannot be allowed to stand.”

The Gloucester County School District— and thus its taxpayers — now must pay Grimm’s costs and legal fees. Given that this legal battle has been waged since 2015, they are likely to be significant.

We’d urge the Elanco school board — including its newest member, Jackie Geyer — to read Allen’s ruling in full. And to consider what it may bode for Elanco.