BUCKS COUNTY, Pa. – The ACLU of Pennsylvania filed a complaint today 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 students in Central Bucks School District who allege a widespread culture of discrimination against LGBTQ+ students, particularly transgender students.
The complaint is based on a five-month investigation by ACLU-PA lawyers who interviewed dozens of students, family members, current and former teachers and other school staff, and community stakeholders. According to the legal complaint, the picture that emerged is of a toxic educational environment for LGBTQ+ students that has been exacerbated recently by homophobic and transphobic actions and policies taken by the school board and upper-level administrators.
The alleged discrimination is 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.
“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, legal director at the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “Unfortunately, rather than combat the toxic educational environment faced by LGBTQ+ students in Central Bucks, a new school board majority and the administration have exacerbated the problems with new homophobic and transphobic policies that have heightened the climate of fear for this group of students and supportive staff.”
Because the students in the complaint are all minors and due to the sensitive nature of the allegations, both the names of students and details of the discrimination they faced will not be released to the public.
“The students we represent share a common theme: they’ve endured persistent and often severe bullying by peers based on their sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “The bullying was ignored by key school administrators and staff when the students sought help. The climate has become so bad in some school buildings that trans students are afraid to eat in the cafeteria and even go to school. This is no way to educate and treat children. It’s immoral, unethical, and illegal.”
The ACLU of Pennsylvania alleges that the district has perpetuated a toxic educational environment by cutting ties with nonprofit organizations that facilitated conversations about welcoming and belonging; banning pride flags; instructing teachers to dead-name and misgender students unless the student’s parents say otherwise; enacting new library and curriculum policies designed to remove LGBTQ-themed books and learning resources; and disciplining staff who speak out against the district’s transphobic policies or offer support to students who have been bullied and harassed.
The district also has steadfastly refused pleas from students, parents, and teachers to provide district-wide training to staff about how to support LGBTQ+ students or to enact policies to prevent discrimination.
The complaint requests that the federal agencies 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 and to take any other action necessary to eliminate the hostile environment for LGBTQ+ students.
You can find a redacted copy of the complaint at aclupa.org/CentralBucks.