RED LION, Pa. — Red Lion Area School District approved an emergency directive that students may only use bathrooms or locker rooms, or participate in sports teams correlated to the sex they were assigned at birth.
On Dec. 1, the 6-2 vote from the school board comes amid a culture war over the topic of gender identity in schools.
Board members said the issue affects six students out of 4,783 total students in the district.
“If it’s six now, then it can turn into more numbers later, and then the numbers just keep rising. If we nip it in the bud now, it doesn’t have to get more than six,” board member Donna Haywood said prior to the vote.
LGBTQ+ advocates said many more than six children are affected, both directly and indirectly.
“We don't know how many students are now going to not choose to come out because of this decision,” said Tesla Taliaferro, president of the Rainbow Rose Center in York.
Taliaferro said policing bathrooms by sex or gender is unnecessary and doesn’t make anyone safer.
“When a student goes into the bathroom, they’re going in there to answer nature’s call. They’re going in there to fix their hair or their makeup or anything else, but they’re not going in there to assault other students,” Taliaferro said. “In fact, they’re more at risk of being assaulted because they are a gender minority.”
The issue of gender identity in schools drew impassioned speeches from members of the public.
“You have the choice to make of whether you’re going to stand for the evil in society and the rebellion against God or you’re going to stand for truth and righteousness and what God has established as far as being born man or woman,” said Red Lion resident Eric Haywood. It is unclear if he is related to board member Donna Haywood.
“It isn’t just boys and girls,” said Red Lion School District parent Jill Lutz. “Welcome to 2022, folks. Wake up.”
At the meeting, multiple people expressed unease with the manner in which the directive was passed. It was not included on the original meeting agenda, but came up as board members were discussing Title IX issues.
Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Act requires public notice and a public comment period before an agency takes official action. Because the measure had not been publicly posted, the board decided to pass it as an emergency directive.
Parents, several board members and the school district’s solicitor, Margaret “Meike” Driscoll, all raised the concern that the action did not meet the requirements for an emergency directive, which would require the issue to have come up less than 24 hours before the board meeting.
“I’ll reiterate my caution regarding the Sunshine Act again, so take that into consideration,” Driscoll said. “There’s a reason why policies go through a whole committee process and why there are several readings and there is legal consultation as well. Some of these issues may be very black and white. Others are much more nuanced, and you could inadvertently leave your administration with a lot of holes of not knowing how to fully administer a directive.”
Red Lion Area School Board members could not be reached for comment.
The same issue is being debated in school districts across the state and nation.
In July, Hempfield School District became the first district in the state to require that student-athletes play on the team correlated to the sex they were assigned at birth.
Conestoga Valley School District is considering a similar measure.
In June, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed a bill that would have required student-athletes at all public schools, including colleges, to play on the team correlated to the sex they were assigned at birth. Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed the bill.
Red Lion Area School District will hold a meeting specifically regarding whether the directive should be made permanent. The meeting is scheduled for Dec. 19, though the time and date have not yet been released. Parents are encouraged to attend.