A few months ago, we introduced you to Andrew Burgess, who has been teaching for 16 years in the Central Bucks School District. He finds teaching to be a joyful experience and takes tremendous satisfaction when his “students find inspiration, find their voice, and begin to take ownership and pride in their work.”
But Andrew also knows that his students can’t find success “if they aren’t in a place that is emotionally and physically safe.”
That’s why, when a transgender student at Lenape Middle School, where Andrew taught, approached him in March 2022 to say that he had experienced severe bullying by fellow students, Andrew did all he could to support that student. Even though school administration had been made aware of the bullying of LGBQT+ students generally, and this student in particular, including both physical harassment and verbal threats, the Central Bucks School District failed to take action to address the problem. They could have adopted best practices recommended by both the U.S. and Pennsylvania education departments to support LGBTQ+ students and to keep them safe. But they refused.
To help support the bullied student, Andrew worked with the student’s family to file a federal complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.
Two months later, school administrators suspended Andrew from teaching at Lenape in the middle of a school day. They confiscated his laptop and escorted him from school grounds even as some of his colleagues and students looked on. Andrew was only reinstated just weeks before the start of the following school year, but Central Bucks administrators transferred him to a different school in the district, a different grade that taught unfamiliar material, and assigned him classes with more students than anyone else.
For this clear retaliation by the school district, Andrew sought help from the ACLU of Pennsylvania, which filed a lawsuit in federal court on his behalf.
How did the Central Bucks School District respond? By doubling down on its retaliation against Andrew.
The district hired right-wing lawyers and spent more than $1 million in taxpayer money to conduct an “investigation” into the environment for LGBTQ+ students at Central Bucks that they turned into an effort to discredit Andrew and the work that he did in support of the student.
The resulting report that the district decided to make public is rife with mischaracterizations, inaccuracies, and outright lies.
For instance, the report states that Andrew “manipulated” the bullied student and concealed the bullying from school administrators. But the authors of the report never talked to the student or his parents. If they had, they would have heard that Andrew counseled the student to report the bullying to school administrators. But the student had previously reported his experiences and feared that doing so again would lead to retaliation and even more bullying.
The report also claims that Andrew violated a district policy requiring teachers to immediately report misconduct like bullying to their school’s principal. But the policy – CBSD Board Policy 104 – was enacted a month after the district had already suspended Andrew.
The report claims that Andrew filed the federal complaint on behalf of the student without the consent of the student’s parents. In fact, the student’s mother had signed a consent form that was included in the initial complaint that Andrew submitted to the Office for Civil Rights.
The report makes the absurd allegation that Andrew covered up abuse of the student, despite the fact that no claims of that type of abuse that is subject to mandatory reporting were ever put forth. Had such claims ever been made, the Central Bucks School District would also have been obligated by law to report the claims to the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services. The district never reported the alleged claims of abuse.
Finally, the report says that Andrew “manipulated” a second student as he dealt with the reports of bullying at Lenape. The reality is that the second student simply accompanied their friend to Andrew’s office to report the ongoing bullying.
The ACLU of Pennsylvania’s lawsuit on behalf of Andrew against the Central Bucks School District continues. You can read a full accounting of the inaccuracies and lies in the district’s “investigation” of Andrew in our amended legal filing.
We are proud to represent Andrew and proud of his willingness to do what’s right in protecting his students, despite the tremendous personal and professional toll that he has had to endure.
School should be a welcoming, enriching environment where students feel safe to explore their identities and their worldviews and to be their full, authentic selves. Andrew did his best to ensure that his students had every opportunity to do just that. For being the kind of teacher that every student deserves, the Central Bucks School District continues to punish and pillory Andrew. It’s disgusting behavior unbecoming of anyone who claims to care for the students they are charged with serving.