Pennridge School District is one of several Bucks County schools that have been hotbeds of controversy because of enacting several anti-diversity and anti-LGBTQ+ policies. In response, the Bucks County NAACP, the PairUP Society (a DEI advocacy group) and several Bucks County families have joined forces to accuse Pennridge of committing racial and anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination and fostering a hostile environment.
On Wednesday, Nov. 15, a federal civil rights complaint was filed on behalf of the parties with the Office of Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. The agencies filing suit on behalf of the complainants are the Education Law Center-PA and the Advocacy for Racial and Civil (ARC) Justice Clinic of the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School.
As per the nearly 80-page administrative complaint, the OCR is being asked to remedy the hostile environment fostered by Pennridge, as well as the various enumerated systemic violations enacted by the school.
According to a statement reported by WHYY, Cara McClellan, director of the ARC Justice Clinic, said, “This complaint is not about abstract ideas or political battles. It’s really about the real harm that students are experiencing. These are concrete and real harms that students are enduring when they go to school and they repeatedly hear racial slurs or they repeatedly hear disparaging comments about LGBTQ people.”
The complaint accuses Pennridge officials of not addressing the bullying of students of color and LGBTQ students, of undermining the history and English curricula to exclude discussions of racism and oppression, and having banned books from diverse backgrounds.
For more than a year now, Pennridge’s school board and administration have become increasingly conservative and have implemented draconian measures that marginalized diverse and LGBTQ students, and excluded information or materials relevant to such students.
For the past two years, Pennridge has gone to great, often secretive lengths to either restrict access to LGBTQ+ books in its library, or to ban them outright. In December 2021, Pennridge adopted a policy to restrict access to books and materials related to gender identity. Earlier this year, one parent sued the school, accusing it of engaging in deceptive practices to hide its restriction of diversity and LGBTQ-themed books and materials.
Most recently, this fall, the school enacted what is called Policy 109. Under this policy, the superintendent is responsible for the selection of all classroom and school library materials, including textbooks, multimedia, maps, software and magazines. The school board then votes to approve the superintendent’s choices during board meetings.
Other right-wing policies Pennridge has adopted includes a ban on displaying “advocacy materials” (i.e., Pride flags) in classrooms, and a restriction on which sports teams trans students could play on.
However, matters could well be looking up for Pennridge. In the recent school board elections, all five open seats were won by Democrats, which will upend the 8-1 Republican majority that has been in place for the last several years. The new board’s term begins in January, with the new members vowing to immediately reverse many of the previous board’s most reactionary policies.
A spokesperson for Pennridge did not immediately respond to a request for comment.