Students in Doylestown, Pennsylvania are protesting Lenape Middle School’s decision to place social studies teacher Andrew Burgess on paid administrative leave after he allegedly gave a transgender student the number to an LGBTQ helpline. The teacher’s removal is just one of numerous contentious LGBTQ issues facing the school’s district.
The dozen or so protesting students wore rainbow flags and refused to attend class, calling for Burgess’ reinstatement. The Central Bucks School District has refused to confirm or deny any details, calling it a “confidential matters of personnel,” but the district superintendent has said the students are incorrect about why Burgess was placed on administrative leave.
However, the students worry that the district has forced out a vital LGBTQ ally, communicating to teachers that they could be targeted for similar discipline if they try and assist queer students. Other trans students have told various publications that anti-LGBTQ bullying is a problem at the school.
“It was kind of like a slap in the face to everyone that would go to him and stuff for, because I would consistently go to him for when I was being bullied and harassed within our school,” one of the students told WFMZ.
“[Mr. Burgess’ leave] also scares all the other teachers that have also been helping [LGBTQ students],” another student told the news station. “They’re like ‘Oh my God, what’s going to happen to me?'”
In a contentious Tuesday evening school board meeting, District Superintendent Abram Lucabaugh addressed the student narrative about Burgess’s firing. “That narrative is offensive and it’s categorically false,” he said. “No district would deign to take such action against an employee.”
He also referenced reports that the district has also forbidden teachers from flying rainbow flags in classrooms.
Lucabaugh said, “I can tell you right now, hanging a flag doesn’t do anything to keep a kid safe… We can agree to disagree on this, but classrooms absolutely need to be apolitical. I don’t want to see Make America Great flags hanging, I don’t want to see Biden flags hanging.”
At the meeting, Lucabaugh didn’t directly provide an answer to growing anger over reports that transgender or gender non-conforming students were being forced to participate in gender-segregated Human Growth and Development classes matching the sex they were assigned at birth, The Philadelphia Enquirer reported. Students who don’t want to attend the gender-segregated classes under this policy can watch related educational videos elsewhere or opt-out of the classes entirely.
“We’re trying to do is do a better job with the way that we deliver that curriculum. What we’re trying to do is to find a way that doesn’t in any way single out or marginalize anyone, and we think that we’ve come up with a better way to do it that is more inclusive and respectful,” Lucabaugh said.
Additionally, trans and non-binary students have said that school staff has been told to address all students using names and pronouns matching students’ names and gender markers on their birth certificates, unless a guidance counselor first confirms the change with their parents.
The issues facing students are concerning the recent wave of legislation in other states seeking to ban all LGBTQ content from classrooms or requiring schools to notify parents about LGBTQ content. Pennsylvania has not passed such laws.
However, the Republican-led school board is currently drafting a policy that would ban “sexualized content” from school libraries. Such bans have been used to removed LGBTQ-inclusive content and educational materials about sexual health from schools.
Pennsylvania has some nondiscrimination policies covering LGBTQ students and a ban against so-called conversion therapy. However, the state lacks explicit anti-bullying protections for LGBTQ students and requirements for state curriculum to be LGBTQ-inclusive, according to the Movement Advancement Project.