Perkiomen school board committee considers restroom policy ‘based on sex’

Walkway to the toilet In the department store or shopping mall
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Dozens of students, parents and teachers spoke out at the Perkiomen Valley School Board meeting on Sept. 11 against policy 720, which would require students to use school bathrooms, locker rooms and showers that correspond to their sex assigned at birth. School board members initially voted 5-4 to prematurely put the policy on the agenda for the Sept. 11 board meeting without having discussed it in the policy committee. It did not pass in that school board meeting, and was sent back to the administration for further revision in the Sept. 19 policy committee meeting.

The proposed policy states that in terms of bathroom access, the school district “shall provide access to multi-user facilities and single-user facilities for students based on their sex,” which the policy defines as “the biological sex classification based on chromosomal structure and anatomy at birth.”

The policy goes on to say that students would have access to single-user bathrooms no matter their sex or gender identity, but will have access to multi-user bathrooms based only on sex assigned at birth. Locker rooms and showers would be designated for use based on sex.

Policy 720 arose from a social media post by the father of a Perkiomen Valley High School (PVHS) student, who claimed that his daughter used the bathroom and thought that a boy was in the room with her, The Inquirer reported. The father, Tim Jagger, apparently told the school board that his daughter “was too upset” to use the bathroom.

According to The Inquirer, Jagger also posted on social media that the PVHS principal told him in an email that students in the school are allowed to use restrooms that correspond to their gender identity, referring to school policy 103. The principal also told Jagger that the school has multiple single-use restrooms available for anyone to use.

At the Sept. 11 school board meeting, a PVHS senior said, “what you guys need to be worrying about is the bullying, harassment and the constant use of slurs towards [trans students], not where they are using the bathroom. Instead of ruining the mental health of kids that you claim to care about, teach your children that these people exist; teach your children that they’re going to meet these people; teach your children to accept and love these people.”

Another major issue pertaining to the legality of the proposed policy arose at the board meeting. 

“By saying an entire group can’t have access to that bathroom, not only is it ethically and morally wrong, it’s illegal under Title IX,” board member Dr. Tammy Campli said at the meeting. “The bottom line is that we are going to be sued. It’s going to cost us millions. All we need to do is come together and talk about [it]. How can we figure it out?”

The language in Title IX includes, “a recipient institution that receives [U.S. Education] Department funds must operate its education program or activity in a nondiscriminatory manner free of discrimination based on sex, including sexual orientation and gender identity.” 

In the discussion leading up to the vote on Sept. 11, board and policy committee member Sarah Evans-Brockett asked how the administration would enforce the policy in the event that it passes. 

“I think the administration has some questions about how it would be enforced when we have students that present very clearly as one gender over another,” said Perkiomen Valley School District (PVSD) Superintendent Dr. Barbara Russell. “It can be difficult to discern.”

Evans-Brockett pointed out that if the policy passed, “potentially we can be outing students that are not out publicly,” she said at the meeting.

Before the vote on policy 720 took place, board president Jason Saylor said he was never told that policy 103 dictates that students can use restrooms that align with their gender identity, and doesn’t interpret the policy to say that, he said at the Sept. 11 meeting. 

“We have been told over the past two weeks that we must relearn what a male and a female is,” Saylor said. “I have tried so hard to not use the term social engineering or indoctrination. But that is literally the conversation we’re having now as a school board. Should we be indoctrinating our students to think that there is a gender spectrum.”

Following discussion at the conclusion of the Sept. 11 board meeting, the board voted 5-4 to send the policy to committee, made possible by a vote from board member Don Fountain, who initially voted in favor of fast-tracking the policy.

“Your policy-making can’t be made on your feeling,” a community member from the Collegeville Borough said after the vote. “That’s not how you make a policy. You educate yourself; you make it on facts and data and talking to people. Not how you feel or what you think or what you’ve experienced in your lifetime. That’s not what leaders do.”

On Sept. 15, hundreds of PVSD students organized a walk-out in opposition to the school board’s vote not to immediately enact a policy that would require students to use facilities based on biological sex.  

At the PVSD policy committee meeting on Sept. 19, committee members further broke down the purpose of the proposed bathroom policy, and whether there was still a need for the policy at all. 

“I do believe a policy is necessary,” Fountain said at the policy committee meeting. “But I also feel that it needs to represent all of the students. I would challenge this committee to create a policy that ensures that every student feels heard, feels safe in their school and feels cared about by those tasked to lead it.”

“I continue to believe this particular policy written as is — we don’t need the policy,” Superintendent Russell said at the meeting. “Until this one incident was raised to administration, there were no issues or concerns brought to our attention. There are very few students affected. However, there were no concerns. I agree with Mr. Fountain. We need to think about the safety. We need to think about upholding the rights and respecting all students.”

Other policy committee members said they thought policy 720 was necessary, that girls and boys should use bathrooms based on their biological sex, disregarding gender identity. 

“I’m not on board with putting minor boys and girls in the same private facilities together,” board and policy committee member Rowan Keenan said at the meeting. “That was expressed by other people on the board, and it was expressed by 300 students last Thursday.” 

Policy committee members also tried to get to the root of whether the policy addresses a safety issue, or if it has to do with concerns about equality for trans students. Policy committee member Russ Larson said that based on how the school interprets policy 103, that if trans students can use restrooms that align with their gender identity, that the policy language could also be interpreted to permit trans women students to use women’s locker rooms and play on women’s sports teams. 

“I sort of surmise that that scenario where trans students would start to play in all girls sports, that that would be extraordinarily problematic for biological females,” Larson said at the meeting. “We’ve been hearing a lot about that.”

He added, “I think a bathroom policy would not guarantee a girl’s safety, and a lack of a bathroom policy does not place a girl in danger. The only thing that would guarantee true safety would be to hire bathroom guards or hall monitors. I think that’s going too far and I don’t think we should make the school a police state.”  

Policy committee member Laura White countered that Larson’s interpretation of policy 103 and the language of policy 720 being related to trans student inclusion to be separate from the issue of safety in schools. 

“The whole thing was presented to the board and to the administration to prevent a safety issue from occurring,” White said at the meeting. “The fact of the matter is, a policy regarding the acknowledgment of our trans and non-gender binary student body has nothing to do with bathroom safety. It has to do with acknowledging their place in the district.” 

Ultimately, the policy committee decided to send policy 720 back to Russell and the administration to further assess and revise, based on Fountain’s proposition of designating the two existing men’s and women’s bathrooms on the first and second floors of PVHS as “a nonbinary bathroom,” Fountain said. “They could be used by whoever chooses to use them.” 

Fountain added that the remaining school facilities would stay “biological male/female.” 

White said she thought this suggestion would not solve the safety issue, including the issue of vaping in school bathrooms. 

Further input from policy committee members included having other administrative school district staffers and legal counsel involved in writing the policy; turning to policies from other schools to help inform the language of policy 720; and even getting student voices involved in creating the policy. Russell added that existing administrative regulations serve as templates for the school district’s policies. 

“In the research I’ve been doing, it seems like every other school district in Montgomery County essentially operates the way that we currently are,” a policy committee member said at the Sept. 19 meeting. “I have not been able to find a policy that is closer to 720, aside from perhaps four districts that I found. I think that Mr. Fountain’s suggestion may be at least a good pathway…and then we can also address safety issues.”

After the policy committee meeting, parents and students expressed their thoughts on policy 720 that includes the proposed compromise, which included those who support the separation of bathroom use based on sex instead of gender, which some of them framed as an issue of comfort. Other community members, including students, conveyed their opposition to a compromise policy that they believe still discriminates against trans and nonbinary students in the district. 

The revised policy, which will be based on feedback from administration staff, parents and students, will be reintroduced to the next policy committee meeting in October. 

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