By Witold “Vic” Walczak and Richard T. Ting
School should be a safe place for all students. It should be an environment that fosters creativity and the free exchange of ideas. It should be a place where children can form friendships that might last a lifetime.
Unfortunately, Central Bucks School District does not have a supportive environment and has not for some time.
The ACLU of Pennsylvania conducted a months-long investigation into bullying, harassment, and discrimination of LGBQ&T students in Central Bucks schools. On Thursday, we filed a federal complaint with the United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, and the United States Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, on behalf of seven Central Bucks students.
Our complaint alleges a longtime toxic environment for LGBQ&T students in the district’s schools. That environment has only become worse since the election of extremists to the school board last November. Before, there was an atmosphere of casual dismissal and victim-blaming of LGBQ&T students who were targets of bullying, harassment, and discrimination. Now there is outright hostility.
We won’t be making public any of the specific student stories in the complaint so that we can protect the identities of our seven clients, all of whom are minors. But we can report that things have gotten so bad that many LGBQ&T students are afraid to eat lunch in the cafeteria, where much of the behavior occurs, or even go to school at all.
The majority on the school board is hellbent on erasing the visibility of LGBQ&T students from Central Bucks schools, especially trans and gender-nonconforming students. The board has cut ties with nonprofit organizations that facilitated conversations about welcoming and belonging. It has banned pride flags. It has instructed teachers to dead-name and misgender students unless the student’s parents say otherwise. It has enacted new library and curriculum policies designed to remove LGBTQ-themed books and learning resources. And it has disciplined staff who have spoken out against the district’s transphobic policies or offered support to students who have been bullied and harassed.
This discrimination is immoral, unethical, and illegal.
There have been protests. There have been demonstrations. And there have been desperate pleas by students, parents, teachers, and other allies to stop adopting these discriminatory policies. But the school board has moved full steam ahead with its transphobic, homophobic agenda, with the assistance of a compliant administration.
Our complaint alleges discrimination based on sex and the violation of the students’ rights under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments. We’re asking both the Department of Justice and the Department of Education to order the Central Bucks School District to take at least the measures recommended by the U.S. Department of Education for supporting transgender and other gender-nonconforming youth in school. We’re also asking these federal agencies to take any other action necessary to eliminate the hostile environment for LGBQ&T students.
It’s bad enough when students, particularly students from vulnerable communities like the LGBQ&T communities, must endure bullying from fellow students; that makes it hard to focus on their studies, their extracurriculars, and just having fun with their friends. To see grown adults in positions of power and authority engage in similar bullying and discrimination is unconscionable.
We hope that this complaint will usher in a more inclusive and welcoming environment in the Central Bucks School District. These are children who need support, not more trauma. We also hope that the adults who are responsible for perpetuating such disgusting, toxic, and discriminatory policies come to their senses and do the right thing. If not, they should stay out of school administration and policymaking. They are unfit to have power over the lives of children.
Witold “Vic” Walczak is Legal Director, ACLU of Pennsylvania and & Richard T. Ting is Staff Attorney