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ACLU accuses Pennsylvania district of anti-LGBTQ policies and practices

Oct. 6, 2022
The civil rights group wants the U.S. Justice and Education departments to investigate the Central Bucks School District.

The American Civil Liberties Union is accusing a Pennsylvania school district of creating and exacerbating a “hostile” and “toxic” educational environment for LGBTQ+ students.

The Bucks County Courier Times reports that the ACLU of Pennsylvania has asked the civil rights divisions of two federal agencies to investigate the Central Bucks School District’s policies and practices.

According to a 72-page complaint filed with the U.S. Justice and Education departments on behalf of seven district students, district officials have ignored a widespread "toxic" culture at Central Bucks schools that has targeted students who identify as LGBTQ+ or transgender.

“These children deserve a safe environment where they can learn and be their full selves without fear of being bullied by other students,” said Witold Walczak, the ACLU Pennsylvania legal director.

Among the remedies the ACLU seeks are federal orders that the district carry out mandatory training for staff, administration, and the school board on supporting LGBTQ+ youth.

The ACLU said its lawyers have interviewed dozens of students, family members, current and former teachers and other school staff, and community stakeholders, who detailed how LGBTQ+ students have faced worsening treatment following "homophobic and transphobic actions" taken by the school board and administrators.

Walczak says a new school board majority and the administration have enacted homophobic and transphobic policies that “have heightened the climate of fear for this group of students and supportive staff.”

A district spokesperson said the district was reviewing the complaint and declined to comment. 

Among the district actions the ACLU cites: 

  • In March, the district severed long ties with CB Cares, a local education foundation that enabled teachers to provide LGBTQ+ resources through its grantmaking.
  • It abruptly ended its relationship with the Gender and Sexuality Clinic at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, which provided school counselors with training on how to support transgender youth.
  • It disciplined guidance counselors and teachers who took steps to address allegations of bullying or spoke out publicly in support of LGBTQ+ and transgender students and against transphobic policies.
  • Teachers in some schools have been directed to use student name and pronouns based on their birth-assigned sex unless the student’s parent say otherwise. The district also has directed teachers to notify guidance counselors if a student wants to be called a different name or pronoun, so parents can be notified.
  • Its recent enactment of new library and curriculum policies designed to remove LGBTQ-themed books and learning resources.

The complaint also contends that some district staff members declined to speak with ACLU attorneys out of fear of retaliation from the school board or administration. 

The Central Bucks district is headquartered in Doylestown, north of Philadelphia, and has about 18,000 students.

About the Author

Mike Kennedy | Senior Editor

Mike Kennedy, senior editor, has written for AS&U on a wide range of educational issues since 1999.

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