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ACLU files federal discrimination complaint against Central Bucks School District


On Oct. 6, the Pennsylvania American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a federal complaint against the Central Bucks School District (CBSD), on the grounds of widespread and persistent discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community, particularly the trans community.
The complaint outlines a series of repeated behaviors, policies, and actions taken by the district, either through individual staff members or the school board majority, that have left trans and other LGBTQ students in a toxic and unwelcoming environment. These incidents include preventing teachers from using a child’s preferred name and pronouns, informally banning Pride Flags from classrooms, passing a book review policy that leaves the door open for pro-queer books to be banned across the district, the suspension of a middle school teacher with a history of defending trans youth, and more.
The following day, Witold Walczak and Richard Ting from the ACLU added an entry to their news blog, titled “Why We’ve Taken Legal Action Against Central Bucks School District.” In it, they describe the situation CB students find themselves in. “Before, there was an atmosphere of casual dismissal and victim-blaming of LGBQ&T students who were targets of bullying, harassment, and discrimination,” they write. “Now there is outright hostility.”
In an interview, Richard Ting made clear what the goals of the complaint are. Short-term, he hopes to draw attention to the school district’s recent behavior, and to remind trans students attending CBSD schools that they are not alone. “It’s important for people to know that all kids deserve a safe education environment,” said Ting.
When discussing the allegations, Ting highlighted the ripple effect that decisions from the superintendent, board majority, or principals can have on the learning environment. Following CBSD’s recent book-banning policy, many teachers began self-censoring, removing potentially controversial books from their classroom libraries out of fear of being reprimanded. Ting refers to this effect as “an atmosphere of intimidation.”
Ting expressed concern for how this will affect students in the long run, but the ACLU must wait on the Department of Justice and Department of Education to move forward with the case. It may take up to a month to hear back, and several more months to conduct a thorough investigation. “For now,” said Ting, “it’s pretty much in the hands of the agencies.”
Nellie Fitzpatrick, a nonbinary attorney with a long history of handling LGBTQ-related cases, helped several students at CBSD share their stories in the federal complaint. These testimonies have been redacted from the complaint’s public version, as is standard procedure to protect minors from potential backlash, should their names go public. Nellie explained via interview that children, especially trans children, are incredibly vulnerable to this kind of backlash.

“The history here, the hostility that has been in Central Bucks goes back quite some time... In a public school district, there’s no place for that. We’re better than that, as people, as a community, as a state, as a commonwealth, as a country. We could just be so much better. I deeply believe trans kids are being used as political pawns right now... It’s just wrong. It’s so incredibly wrong.”
Fitzpatrick’s mission is to spread understanding of LGBTQ+ issues through their work and through factual resources. They assert that people are deeply aware of their own gender, and are not “indoctrinated” or “persuaded” into being trans, as some might claim. They also make sure to mention that LGBTQ people make up a small percentage of the population, and trans people an even smaller percentage.
“[Parents of trans children] want their kid to be able to ride their bike to school, and be happy, and have friends, and go into a classroom,” said Fitzpatrick, “and be more worried about a Pop Quiz than being sucker punched for who they are, or belittled by a teacher, or demeaned by an administrator.”
At the Oct. 11 school board meeting, Board President Dana Hunter publicly addressed the ACLU allegations, referring to it as a complaint about “harassment based on sex.” At no point did she use the term transgender or transphobia.
In her statement, Hunter refuted the allegations, professing that CBSD is a safe space for all students, and argued that they should have access to declassified versions of the complaint, learning the identities of the student testifying against them so school staff can deal with their complaints directly.
At this same meeting, the school board majority voted to move forward with Policy 321, which, if passed in its current state, would formally ban Pride Flags from classrooms.

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