Metro Weekly

Pine-Richland School District settles lawsuit over transgender bathroom policy

School board reverses policy limiting transgender students' access to facilities based on biological sex at birth

Juliet Evancho and Elissa Ridenour – Photos: Lambda Legal.

A Pittsburgh-area school district has reached a settlement in a lawsuit challenging its policy barring transgender students from restrooms matching their gender identity by agreeing to rescind the policy entirely.

Three transgender students — Juliet Evancho, Elissa Ridenour, and a student known as A.S. — sued Pine-Richland School District over their exclusion from facilities matching their gender identity.

Earlier this year, a federal judge found that the policy was discriminatory, and violated the students’ rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In response, the school district has decided not to appeal that decision, and the school board voted last week to reverse the policy. The ban on transgender students was adopted in September 2016 after some parents and conservative interest groups applied pressure to the board, in a backlash against guidance from the Obama administration’s Department of Education.

For years prior to that, Pine-Richland’s policy was to allow transgender students to use restrooms matching their gender identity, without incident.

As part of the agreement, the Pine-Richland School District agreed to rescind the September policy. It also agreed to update its nondiscrimination policy to include protections based on sexual orientation.

“We are gratified to have come to a mutually agreed upon resolution with the Pine-Richland School District that will protect transgender students from discrimination,” Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, a staff attorney with Lambda Legal, said in a statement. “The agreement we have reached is one that benefits the entire community at Pine-Richland and we look forward to finalizing it within a matter of days.”

According to Jonathan Adams, a spokesman for Lambda Legal, the agreement reached with the school district will remain binding regardless of any other court cases. Currently, a group of students is suing the Boyertown Area School District in eastern Pennsylvania over its trans-inclusive policy, claiming it violates cisgender students’ privacy.

Even if the plaintiffs in that case were to obtain a favorable judgment from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court or a higher court, Pine-Richland’s agreement would remain in place, Adams said. 

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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