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Concerns about a transgender student at Eastern Lebanon County High School led the ELCO school board on April 17 to close the high school locker rooms to all students during regular school hours through the end of the school year.

The directive went into effect today, April 24, and continues through the end of the current school year, on June 7, according to an email sent out last week to ELCO parents by high school principal Jennifer Haas.

“Locker rooms will remain available for use by athletic teams after the school day for time periods established by the District Administration,” Haas wrote in the email, which was shared with LebTown by a concerned parent. “This directive has been enacted to allow the Board to consider options that respect the confidentiality and privacy of all students who use the High School locker rooms during the instructional day.”

The school board voted 8-1 to close the locker rooms. The email does not mention the transgender student or explain the reason for the decision.

Although the order allows student athletes to use locker rooms outside of school hours, it means students are no longer permitted to change clothes for physical education classes.

Students were told to empty their locker-room lockers and turn in their school-issued locks by the end of school Friday, April 21, according to Haas’s email. On days they have physical education classes, the email states, students must come to school dressed for gym.

“Students may not change clothes in restrooms or other parts of the building before, during, or after their Physical Education class,” the email explains. “At the start of the class period, students will meet in the gym and will store personal belongings in a designated location that is monitored by security cameras within the gym area.”

Students are only “permitted to change their shoes” for the class, Haas said in the email.

“On days when student-athletes need to leave school early for an away athletic contest, the locker rooms will be opened by designated personnel to allow student-athletes to prepare for the contest and will be relocked upon the team leaving for their competition,” she said.

District superintendent Julia Vicente told LebTown on Friday that the board’s directive gives them time to “consider options that respect the confidentiality and privacy of all students who use the High School locker rooms during the school day,” and said district administrators will come up with options to consider for the next academic year.

“The response to the School Board’s decision has been mixed, with some supporting it and others not favoring it,” Vicente said in an email. “We realize the closure impacts the daily routine of some students, who will need time to adjust to the new procedures. We appreciate everyone’s cooperation as we comply with the directive to close the locker rooms during the instructional day.”

CBS-21 noted in a report that ELCO is the second district in Central Pennsylvania to close its locker rooms this year. Hempfield School District, in Lancaster County, made a similar move in January, less than a year after Hempfield became the first school district in Pennsylvania to enact a policy requiring students to play on athletic teams based on their gender at birth.

People were quick to take sides on the ELCO issue on social media. On a Facebook post Thursday on the Lebanon Daily News page, reader Michael Noll suggested that “biological boys go in the boys locker room and biological girls go in the girls locker room. Problem solved.” Another reader, Shanne Shade, said “everyone has to suffer for the cause of one other.”

Reader Jason Hatt wondered if “anyone asked the kids,” and said he’s “a little ashamed that this is what my alma mater has become.” Michelle King complained that hundreds of comments on the topic, including many from ELCO students, had been deleted by the Daily News.

On a Facebook page for the ELCO Community for Education, group member Matthew Behney fretted about the tone of the conversation. “As a society we should be able to calmly and rationally come to an understanding on things like this. Instead, we will draw our battle lines and start fighting. It seems to be our default response and it make me sad,” he said.

“I’m with you,” agreed member Amber Perrotti Weaver, who noted that two board members at last week’s meeting cited “safety concerns” as their reason for closing the locker rooms. “I wish I would see as many suggested solutions as I do insults.”

Another group member, Lindsay Bergman-Debes, said a decision last year by the U.S. Supreme Court said the legal definition of sexual discrimination includes discrimination based on sexual orientation as well as gender identity. “Feel free to email the Board and also the candidates to ask them if they plan to violate federal law,” she said.

Joya Morrissey, a candidate for the school board, asked for community opinions on the decision, and she got plenty from both sides.

“Thank you ELCO school district for making the best decision possible in this very difficult situation until a policy is put into place,” wrote Rachael Vermeulen.

“I think it was a fair decision that allows for privacy for everyone. It’s a shame though that one student is literally affecting everyone,” commented Crystal Lynn Schott, adding that people who oppose the board’s action want “to allow a scientifically genetic female in the boys locker room.”

“Homosexual males have been sharing locker rooms with straight males for a CENTURY + and nobody says a thing. Homosexual females have been sharing locker rooms with straight females for a CENTURY + and nobody says a thing,” Allen C. Phillips wrote on Morrissey’s page. “Add the word ‘Trans’ in 2023 and everyone loses their mind. We live in an insane world. How on earth is it any different???”

“There are a number of solutions to this issue that don’t involve adults singling out and using school board public comments to bully a child for their identity,” said Jessica Hoffer. “My feelings on the decision are mixed but the rationale given for it was bigoted. Don’t battle your culture war on the backs of our kids.”

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Tom Knapp

Tom has been a professional journalist for nearly four decades. In his spare time, he plays fiddle with the Irish band Fire in the Glen, and he reviews music, books and movies for Rambles.NET. He lives with his wife, Michelle, and has four children: Vinnie, Molly, Annabelle and Wolf.


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