After ACLU complaint, Central Bucks still considers banning Pride flags

The Central Bucks school board will make a final vote on the policy banning Pride flags next month, amid student and teacher outcries.

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In May, 2022, Central Bucks parents raise pride flags in protest of the string of decisions made by administration and district leadership. (Emily Rizzo/WHYY)

In May, 2022, Central Bucks parents raise pride flags in protest of the string of decisions made by administration and district leadership. (Emily Rizzo/WHYY)

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The Central Bucks school board is moving forward with a policy that will censor Pride flags and other classroom decor relating to gender identity and sexual orientation, despite outcry from students, parents, and community members, and a federal complaint by the ACLU.

The board voted 6-3 in support of the draft policy. It will go up for a final vote in November.

Board members Karen Smith, Tabitha Dell’Angelo, and Mariam Mahmoud opposed the policy.

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“Teachers are going to feel micromanaged,” Dell’Angelo said, listing a number of hypotheticals. “Where’s the line? If a teacher stands up for a student who has been told that their identity is sinful, are they unfairly advocating for a particular identity or against a religious belief?”

About 100 community members showed up, a vast majority against the policy. Many of them wore Pride shirts or shirts that said “Protect Trans Kids,” and held small Pride flags in the air.

Central Bucks middle school and high school students showed opposition during Tuesday’s school board meeting. They say they don’t feel heard or respected by district leaders. (Emily Rizzo/WHYY)

“When you think about it, for a moment, and consider everything, only pain can come out of this law and nothing good for anyone involved,” said Evi Casey, an eighth-grader at Lenape Middle School. “You may have the government breathing down your neck and you’re still trying to enforce this uselessness.”

District administrators have said that teachers’ decisions to hang Pride flags have led to “contention.”

“A sticker, sign, or flag hung by a teacher may be intended to show support for inclusion of particular students,” the policy reads. “But it can simultaneously communicate that other teachers who do not affix such symbols in their classroom do not support inclusion for all their students.”

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The policy continues: “out of respect for the entire, diverse school community—decor related to political, sociopolitical, sexual orientation, gender identity, or religious beliefs in the classroom other than as described below, is prohibited.”

The ACLU named the decor policy among a long list of policies and procedures it says discriminate against LGBTQ students, especially transgender kids, in the complaint it filed with the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Justice.

The ACLU complaint says the policy “plainly is intended to further chill teacher and staff support for LGBTQ+ students and is itself discriminatory.”

The ACLU directly responded to the district’s justification for the policy in the federal complaint; “Under such reasoning, we could never have anti-discrimination laws to protect vulnerable and persecuted minority groups because they could upset supporters of the discrimination.”

The ACLU’s complaint, which includes seven stories from students and their families, alleges that district administrators are aware of severe bullying and harassment against LGBTQ students and have not adequately responded.

Instead, the district is paying public relations firm Devine + Partners a total of $180,000.

CJ Weintraub, a senior at Central Bucks West High School who is nonbinary/transgender, questioned the district’s priorities.

“As a student in this district, I wish administration spent more effort trying to ensure that all students feel safe, instead of ensuring that their image is pristine, because you aren’t fooling us,” Weintraub said. “You cannot say that you have listened to students and then censor our very existence in the same breath. I am here reporting discrimination at the source, begging you, the school board, to look within yourselves, and take action along side us, rather than against us.”

Leo Burchell, senior at Central Bucks West High School who is transgender and president of the school’s Sexuality and Gender Alliance club, has been speaking at board meetings and organizing with other LGBTQ students.

“I can scream until I’m hoarse and you still will not listen,” Burchell said. “Do you have the courage to look me in the eye and tell me why you’re making my days at school harder? We will protest these policies until they are all knocked down.”

About a dozen parents came in support of the policy, some dressed in Moms for Liberty T-shirts.

Tricia Doebler, Central Bucks parent and vice chairperson of Bucks County’s Moms for Liberty, a national organization known for pushing for book censorship, spoke about “parental rights” and keeping the district out of decisions regarding her child.

“My child and I have the strongest partnership you will ever see,” Doebler said. “We will allow teachers to come into our partnership, but I will not allow someone to come in between.”

Donna Shannon, a Doylestown resident, said she thinks Pride symbols are divisive. “When any group, no matter how large or small, has such an eye-catching and flamboyant symbol, that is not inclusive, it is not only a distraction, but a trigger for a negative response,” Shannon said. “No one else likes having someone else’s viewpoint pushed on them.”

But LGBTQ students feel like other people’s viewpoints are being pushed on them, and their experiences are silenced.

Casey, the Lenape Middle School student, had a pointed question for the school board, referencing the recent move to censor library books and classroom materials.

“Are you going to ban people soon, too?”

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