An exterior view of Perkiomen Valley High School. (MediaNews Group File Photo)
PERKIOMEN — An attempt to fast-track a policy restricting bathroom use for trans students in the Perkiomen Valley School District failed by one vote Monday after a four-hour school board meeting at which at least 45 people spoke.
School board member Don Fountain, who had voted last week to put the proposed policy up for a vote at Monday’s meeting, changed his vote and voted with the four other board members — Sarah Evans-Brockett, Reena Kolar, Laura White and Tammy Campli — opposed to the policy.
Voting in favor of implementing the policy, similar in both wording and name to a controversial policy enacted in May in the Pennridge School District, were board President Jason Saylor, Vice President Kim Mares, Rowan Keenan and Matt Dorr.
Of the more than 45 people who spoke during Monday night’s meeting, nine spoke in favor of the policy, which would have required students to use the bathroom and locker room of their biological sex, rather than the gender with which they identify. The remaining 36 spoke against the action.
Many of those who spoke were students or parents of students who are trans, queer, gender neutral, non-binary or somewhere on the LGBTQA-plus spectrum.
“Many queer students are already a target at school and they are now being scapegoated for a problem that does not exist,” said Cece Drury. “Your thinking is warped by your own bigotry,” the board was told. “I will never understand your obsession with queer people.”
Eleventh grader Max Johnson, who said he came out as trans three years ago, told the board “you grew up in a different time, but things are different now. Trans are normal, but they were not normal when you were young. The limited beliefs from your childhood are affecting children now.”
Several speakers who are mental health professionals, along with a few well-researched students, told the board that trans students are not a danger to others and that, in fact, the proposed policy would have put them in greater danger as statistics show trans students are much more likely to be sexually assaulted.
Trans and LGBTQA-plus students are also more likely to consider suicide due to bullying, they said, which one trans speaker confirmed as a personal experience.
Keith Willard, who is the advisor for the Gay/Straight Alliance “in another school district,” noted that a social media post which put the effort to adopt the policy into motion “feels fake, and fabricated to further your culture war in an attempt to galvanize conservative voters prior to an election.”
The Facebook post was made by Tim Jagger who complained about his daughter being uncomfortable on the first day of school because she was in the high school girls bathroom and “wasn’t positive, but was pretty sure a male entered the bathroom while she was in there. She is now afraid to use the facilities.”
Jagger spoke at Monday night’s meeting and insisted he is not “anti-trans” and that his posting of his complaint about an incident and the school’s response, was “not political.” He said he has read about “parents’ bill of rights” being enacted in other places and thinks Perkiomen Valley should consider one as well.
While many of the other speakers against the policy earned applause from the capacity crowd for their comments — this despite Saylor’s plea not to — Jagger earned the only boos of the evening when he offered the following rationale for why trans students pose a safety risk to straight students: “The trans community says it has thoughts of suicide. If you value your life so little that you think of ending it, why would you value another’s?”
Former school board member Judy Lofton dismissed some of the board members’ claims that they were unaware the district allowed trans students to use the bathrooms with which they identify by noting that in 2018, the school board voted 8-1 to add gender as a protected class in its non-discrimination policy “and Mr. Dorr voted in favor of it.”
Dorr told the crowd he was “disappointed” with the bullying behavior “on both sides” and suggested the district’s bullying problems, which were raised many times by the speakers, may be traced back to parents. “It’s a learned trait.”
“To me, this is not anti-trans,” he said. “Boys are dumb. And, as the father of a daughter, I don’t want any males in the girls’ bathroom.”
Campli asked how the policy would be implemented, a question shared by Superintendent Barbara Russell.
“Are we going to have a panty patrol?” she asked, pointing out that it is sometimes hard to tell from outward appearances the biological sex of a student and checking genitals is obviously out of the question.
Keenan suggested that testing chromosomes or birth certificates are two non-invasive ways to check biological sex.
“I don’t know how we would discern their genitalia or their chromosomes make-up,” Russell said. “Do we pull up a birth certificate every time a student wants to use the bathroom?”
“If this passes tonight, these kids are going to have to figure out what they do tomorrow. What is the staff going to do?” asked Campli. “We don’t put a policy in place when we don’t have the nuts and bolts worked out, it’s unethical.”
The legality of the proposed policy also was questioned and was the subject of a closed-door executive session that lasted about 20 minutes while District Solicitor Brian Subers presumably outlined the law and case law for board, which includes a Boyertown policy which mirrors Perkiomen Valley’s current practice being upheld in Superior Court in 2018.
“It’s illegal under Title 9,” Campli said. “The bottom line is we’re going to be sued. It’s going to cost us millions.”
“I’m OK with this going to policy, I’m fine with it going to policy but not before this gets voted on tonight,” said Saylor. He also said “Policy is where discussions go to die, and I say that with the utmost respect.”
“My phone has been off for one year because people call day and night. They call my work,” Saylor said. “I’ve been called a racist and a bigot by board members because I want to discuss this in a transparent way.
“Should we be social engineering, teaching our students that there is a spectrum of gender?” Saylor asked. “I don’t have a problem with transgender students. But no one told me we might have a transgender player on our softball team.”
He also noted that he regrets how the public discussion of the issue has devolved.
“This is literally my worst nightmare, to have the community so divided,” Saylor said.
Ultimately, it was time for the vote.
Several of the speakers had appealed directly to Fountain, appealing to him to recall his service as a school counselor at Perkiomen Valley High School from 1990 to 2017.
And when it came time for his vote, Fountain paused much longer than any of the other board members, finally saying quietly, “no.” After the final tally was read, “the motion is defeated 5-4,” the room erupted in cheers and applause.
The proposed policy is likely to be referred to the policy committee for further discussion.