Perkiomen Valley school board retains anti-trans bathroom policy

(Photo: Adobe Stock)

Perkiomen Valley School District is one of the many school districts in Pennsylvania embroiled in a culture war waged by conservatives against LGBTQ+ students; it was also one of the districts whose school board was flipped from Republican majority to Democratic majority in the recent elections. In the inaugural meeting of the new board on Dec. 4, freshly installed Board President Laura White added an item to the agenda for the subsequent meeting on Dec. 11 that would deactivate a recently adopted anti-trans bathroom policy.

The proposal to deactivate Policy 720 was taken up at the Dec. 11 meeting, and after testimony from parents and residents, and much spirited and often contentious debate among board members, the final vote was 5-4 in favor of retaining the policy. However, the vote was contingent on 720 being referred back to the board’s policy committee for reconsideration and revision.

Policy 720, which restricts bathroom use to the sex a student was assigned at birth, was adopted by the previous board last October. During the debate, School Superintendent Barbara Russell explained that one of her problems with 720 was that it was adopted without going through the normal consideration of the policy committee, without debate or input from the community, and without feedback from the school administration. But when asked point-blank if she was in favor of 720’s immediate deactivation, she said only, “I will abide by the decision of the board.”

The majority of the residents who spoke at the Dec. 11 board meeting were in favor of retaining 720, repeating common conservative tropes, painting trans kids as dangerous; “safety of the kids” was a frequent refrain, as were comments equating Pride with hate, expressing such sentiments as “inclusivity needs boundaries” and how studies describing the nuances of gender identity were “faux science.”

During the board debate, the conservative members repeated most of the same objections. One member, Jason Saylor, was quite open about his objection to trans people. He said, “Nothing you can say will change my mind that there is more than two genders, male and female.”

Those in favor of deactivating 720 spoke forcefully about the need to support disenfranchised communities. Tammy Campli spoke emotionally about dealing with an 8-year-old trans kid contemplating suicide because they were afraid of how their parents and school would react — to which Saylor angrily retorted, “We’re not responsible for suicides.”

Treena Sadler, one of the newly installed members, expressed concern for the feelings of families who would be left without a policy while 720 went through the policy committee process. That concern led her to provide the necessary majority vote to maintain 720 for the time being.

The next policy committee hearing is scheduled for January. The committee’s recommendation will be considered at the next school board meeting in February.

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