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.