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Students Walk Out Over Shared Restrooms at Sun Valley High School

Despite threats from the district about possible suspensions, 40 to 60 students walked out of Sun Valley High School in the Penn-Delco School District, objecting to boys being allowed to use girls’ bathrooms.

About an equal number of parents and residents came out to support the protest.

According to an email released by the office of state Rep. Leanne Krueger (D-Delaware County), Penn-Delco Superintendent George Steinhoff confirmed the district “allows transgendered students to choose a bathroom based on their gender identity, and this has been true for years.” The email was posted by the group Parents Defending Education.

After word of the policy began to spread, Steinhoff emailed a concerned parent saying there were no changes to district policy and that students concerned about sharing a bathroom with students of the opposite gender could go to their counselors “to see if provisions can be made.”

“This topic can be a confusing one for parents whose personal beliefs don’t always align with nondiscriminatory practices required of schools,” Steinhoff wrote. He claimed the policy was mandated by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, according to Parents Defending Education. But other federal appeals court circuits have ruled segregating bathrooms by sex is constitutional and doesn’t violate federal law.

A spokeswoman for Penn-Delco did not respond to a request for comment about the student walkout. However, people present observed that the school doors were locked to prevent students from returning to their classes.

Joe Dychala, a resident and musician who gives private music lessons to about 40 students a week, came to support the students. He said the kids marched peacefully around the flag pole carrying handmade signs.

“It was a very grassroots type of situation,” said Dychala. “It was mostly young ladies, but there were a few young gentlemen. And there were participants from all grades.”

There was also a “heavy police presence,” said Dychala, who carried a large American flag. Several people stood on the roof watching the demonstration, although Dychala was uncertain if they were officers or school officials.

Leah Hoopes, a community activist, spoke to the crowd.

“I spoke about the fact that students’ constitutional rights are not suspended when they enter their schools,” said Hoopes. “It is also a fact that the administration provided an email with retaliatory threats if these children were to exercise their constitutional rights. Also, a fact that teachers were harassing students and scaring them to not participate in the protest, as well as the fact that teachers were seen blocking exits, which is illegal.”

The Sun Valley students followed in the footsteps of Perkiomen Valley High School students who walked out last month over transgender males using girls’ restrooms. The Perkiomen Valley School Board then backtracked and passed a policy that students must use the restroom corresponding to their anatomy at birth.

Hoopes said legal experts have said students have the right to free speech unless it disrupts the school. She cited  Vera Edelman, a fellow with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. Although Edelman concedes students who walk out may face discipline.

“End of the day, it’s about kids who do not feel safe. Women who can not access female spaces because men are invading them, this is Marxist ideology,” said Hoopes.


Brookhaven Mom Shares Story of ‘Hit List’ Threatening Her Daughter

Imagine, in this time of school shootings discovering your 13-year-old daughter was added to a hit list drawn up by her fellow students.

It happened to Liz Finnegan.

“It’s been a nightmare,” the Brookhaven mom said. Her daughter, M.D., is a special needs student at Nothley Middle School in the Penn-Delco School District. The other students involved had been bullying her since she was in 7th grade last year. But now it has escalated, said Finnegan.

“Four girls were involved in creating the list,” said Finnegan. Two are middle school students, and two are in 9th grade at Sun Valley High School. “They took it online because they couldn’t harass her in person anymore.”

Students posted the hit list on Discord, a social media platform with voice-over-internet (VoIP), text messaging, video calls, and private or group chats called “servers.”

One girl involved in the bullying began to feel uncomfortable about the hit list, and on March 24, she warned M.D. about it. M.D. told her mom. Finnegan decided to keep her kids at home that day and called 911.

“My daughter showed it to me shortly before she was supposed to get on the bus, and I called 911 because I considered it a serious threat,” said Finnegan. But the police took a report and did not do anything, she said. “You know they say, ‘If you see something, say something.’ But then there is nobody who’ll do something about it.”

She also called the school and told officials there.

On Wednesday, she allowed M.D. to go to school but then received an automated call saying she was absent. So she called the school, “and for five minutes, I’m on the phone, and they’re trying to find her.” Finnegan was frantic, thinking, “They got to her, they got to her, they got to her before she got to class. I was walking in circles, talking to myself. I was hysterical.”

The school made a mistake, Finnegan learned to her relief. Her daughter was sitting in class unaware of the drama.

On Thursday, she met with the assistant superintendent, the dean of students, and the principal. They had talked to the middle school girl who made the hit list, which included other students and a teacher. That girl told them she was not serious about harming anyone. Finnegan was unimpressed.

“I’ve never plotted a crime before. But if I did, I probably would not tell anyone if they asked me,” she said.

Lisa Palmarini, a district spokeswoman, said she could not discuss the situation because, as “a matter of privacy, I cannot address the nature of the complaint.”

“It’s a mess,” Finnegan said. “The bullying is constantly escalating, and she’ll come home and say that she was bullied, crying, telling me about another kid in her class who was bullied and how she doesn’t understand why people always pick on him because he’s so nice. Some so many kids are just tormented every day.”

After spring break, M.D. may take classes virtually from home, she said.

“I don’t want to do that to her,” she said. But with the school district unwilling to expel the student behind the hit list, Finnegan said she is not sure what to do. The district did offer a one-on-one aide to stay with M.D. for the remainder of the school year.

Finnegan said the family will research other remedies over spring break.

Also, she said the police were unwilling to investigate the matter. When Finnegan spoke to the Brookhaven police chief, he suggested she file a civil suit.

Brookhaven Police Chief Mike Vice could not immediately be reached for comment.

And as for talking to the parents of the bullying students, one of their adult family members called M.D. and left a creepy singing voicemail: “I’m going to get you. You think you’re safe, and you’re really not. You don’t know who you’re really messing with. Do you like clowns? Because I do.”

M.D. told DVJournal, “After everything that’s happened over the course of this entire week, It’s just been very difficult. It’s been stressful, and I’m still scared.”


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