Federal Court Ruling Upholds Rights of Transgender Students in Berks County School

August 25, 2017
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EASTON, Pa. – A federal court today upheld a Berks County school’s practice of respecting its students’ gender identity. The practice at schools in the Boyertown Area School District allows transgender students to use facilities, including rest rooms and locker rooms, that coincide with their gender identity.

The ruling was hailed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania as “another step forward” for transgender students in the commonwealth’s public schools.

“The district is doing its best to provide an atmosphere that is conducive to learning, for all students, regardless of their gender identity,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “Transgender students should have the opportunity to learn in an environment where they feel safe. We are grateful that the court agreed that the plaintiffs’ desire to stop what the district is doing had no grounding in legal principles.”

The district was sued earlier this year by four students attempting to stop the practice. The ACLU of Pennsylvania, the ACLU’s LGBT and HIV Project, and cooperating counsel from Cozen O’Connor represent the Pennsylvania Youth Congress, an LGBTQ youth advocacy organization whose members at Boyertown Area Senior High (BASH) would have been harmed if the plaintiffs had succeeded.

“We are thrilled with today's decision supporting transgender students in Boyertown and beyond,” said Jason Landau Goodman, executive director of the Pennsylvania Youth Congress. “Trans students must be ensured basic dignity in school in order to learn. This court has allowed the school to continue to ensure that trans students are free from discrimination at Boyertown.

“Schools across Pennsylvania should support trans inclusion because it is absolutely the right thing to do.”

According to survey research from GLSEN, a nationwide LGBTQ student advocacy group, 75 percent of transgender students report feeling unsafe at school, and 59 percent report being denied the opportunity to use rest room facilities that match their gender identity.

“Policies and practices that support transgender students are absolutely crucial to promote the best outcomes for children,” said Mary Catherine Roper, deputy legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “We’re hopeful that this sends another signal to schools in Pennsylvania and around the country that they need to implement policies that respect students’ gender identity.”

Earlier this year, a federal court in western Pennsylvania ruled that a public school’s policy of requiring students to use rest rooms based on their gender that was assigned at birth violated the constitutional rights of transgender students.

“The tide is turning on this issue, and it’s turning toward fairness for trans kids,” Roper said.

Counsel for the Pennsylvania Youth Congress include Mary Catherine Roper of the ACLU of Pennsylvania; Leslie Cooper, Ria Tabacco Mar and Gabriel Markles of the ACLU LGBT & HIV Project; and Amanda Nelson and Harper Seldin of Cozen O’Connor.

For more information on today’s ruling, including related legal documents, visit aclupa.org/Boyertown.

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