Sex distinction policies draw mixed reactions from Crawford Central

Apr. 17—A discussion of policy changes that would establish a variety of sex-based restrictions for athletic teams, restrooms and forms of address used in communicating with students drew mixed reactions from Crawford Central School Board members and an audience of about 60 residents on Monday.

The district's lawyer, however, was consistent in her evaluation.

"I just want to urge some caution because I've reviewed these policies and I know that they say that they are Title IX compliant and they make some statements about Title IX and about protecting students," said Rachael Downey Glasoe, referring to the federal statute prohibiting sex-based discrimination in federally funded educational programs, "but I have serious, serious concerns."

Restrictive policies adopted elsewhere in February

The three policies in question were adopted in February by South Side Area School District, located in western Beaver County northwest of Pittsburgh. Crawford Central Superintendent Jenn Galdon said they were the only such policies the district was able to find among Pennsylvania school districts. A policy similar to the South Side Area policy on sex-based distinctions in athletics was also adopted in February by Mohawk Area School District in western Lawrence County.

The South Side Area athletics policy restricts participation based on biological sex and bases its definition of sex on "reproductive biology and genetic make-up."

"Athletic teams or sports designated for 'females,' 'women,' or 'girls' shall not be open to students of the male sex," the policy states, "and athletic teams or sports designated for 'males,' 'men,' or 'boys' shall not be open to students of the female sex."

The policy also spells out limited exceptions that allow for participation on opposite-sex teams when same-sex teams are not available. Biological boys who would pose a safety risk due to size or other factors or who officials believe would provide a girls team with a competitive advantage are prohibited from participating on girls teams under any circumstances.

Another of the policies addresses use of facilities such as restrooms and locker rooms, restricting their use according to biological sex.

The third policy addresses name and pronoun usage, prohibiting district personnel from using names other than a student's legal name — or a common nickname associated with that legal name — unless the student's parents have submitted a written accommodation request. The policy takes a similar approach based on biological sex to pronouns.

However, under the South Side Area policy, while staff members are permitted to respect the wishes of parents regarding names and pronouns, they are not required to.

"Nothing in this policy shall be read to compel school personnel or other students to address or refer to any person in any manner that would violate the conscience of the speaker," the policy states. "If school personnel cannot use a requested pronoun as a matter of conscience, then as a reasonable accommodation for the school personnel, they need not do so, but must avoid addressing the student by the unwanted first name and pronoun."

Interest among some Crawford Central members

Board members Ron Irwin and Ed DeVore both expressed support for policies like those adopted by South Side Area and suggested restrictions based on biological sex could be drawn in a way that complied with federal regulations.

"They haven't faced any blowback that I'm aware of," DeVore said of South Side Area. "I think we'd be in compliance with Title IX and protecting all the students' rights and parental rights if we enacted their policies."

Possible restrictions could also affect overnight field trip accommodations, according to Irwin.

Last month, Irwin and board member Monica Hargenrater were the only two board members to vote against funding school field trips to the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association All-State Festival. Over the past decade, such votes have typically been unanimous.

Hargenrater declined to comment on the vote afterward, referring The Meadville Tribune to Galdon and board President Kevin Merritt. Both Galdon and Merritt declined to comment. In an email after the March 25 meeting, Irwin said his no vote reflected a district policy stating that "safety and well-being of students shall be protected at all times."

"I asked some specific questions about the trip that went unanswered," Irwin wrote. "For that reason, we did not feel we could fulfill our obligation to this section of the policy."

On Monday, Irwin kicked off the policy discussion with an appeal to scientific authority.

"I think we could just cut to the chase and say, 'You know what? We'll go by chromosomes,' Irwin said. "I have not found anywhere in all this stuff that talks about actual science and that's what I thought we were supposed to be thought about with the school district, is science and not this, you know — Oh, I identify as, at any given time, to change that."

While the South Side Area policies make references to safety in athletics and personal conscience with regard to pronoun use, Irwin alluded to a world that may not be tolerant of people whose identities don't align with traditional identities and said the district should prepare its students for such a place.

"When we release these kids into the real world — they graduate — you can no longer pick and choose what you want to be and stuff like that," Irwin said. "Reality is going to hit. So I think XX and XY chromosomes is the way to go moving forward."

Resistance among Crawford Central members

Irwin's comments met with light applause from the audience.

They also met with an immediate response from board member Ryan Pickering, who pointed out that the genetic spectrum includes a wider array of combinations when it comes to sexual characteristics.

"I'd just like to clarify that if we're going to talk about chromosomes then we have to include intersex people and XO and XXX and XYY and people who express phenologically different than their genotype," said Pickering, who teaches psychology at Allegheny College, "and I don't know if we're ready to have that conversation scientifically, but if you would like to have a conversation about chromosomes, I'd be happy to have that conversation."

However, Pickering continued, such a conversation might be moot. Echoing a disclaimer of sorts that Galdon had announced upon starting the policy discussion, Pickering said that gender identities are protected by law — even when they conflict with traditional understandings of biological sex as a rigid binary pair.

"And so we can choose our gender identity when we graduate high school," Pickering said. "I would just like to let everyone know who's struggling with their gender identity that you do get to leave your high school environment at some point and escape from some of these ideas about what science is or isn't."

Pickering's remarks also met with applause.

Among other board members who participated in the discussion, Jan Feleppa thanked Glasoe for offering a straightforward evaluation of the South Side Area policies. Board members Holly Chatman and Tammy Silvis did not attend the meeting.

The investigation continues

In the end, the board asked Glasoe to further investigate the topic of sex-based restrictions in schools. Her initial reaction Monday suggested that pursuing policies like those up for discussion could result with the district facing protracted court battles.

While South Side Area has not faced any repercussions in the two months since adopting its policies, a serious response is likely, according to Glasoe. In fact, she added, that may well have been the point.

"My read on this is South Side (Area) School District is looking for a fight in court and that is what will happen down there," Glasoe said. "If we look to these as a model, I would say this school district is going to also get a fight — is going to get a big legal fight."

Mike Crowley can be reached at (814) 724-6370 or by email at