Democrats Sweep in Suburban School Board Race

Protests to protect LGBTQ+ youth | Photograph by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images
Protests to protect LGBTQ+ youth | Photograph by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

This past election day was not Pennsylvania’s most surprising or riveting election. There was no huge upset or major shock factor that would typically draw voters to the polls, which is perhaps why this year's numbers were so low—55% lower than last year’s. 

Cherelle Parker winning Philadelphia mayor was a historic, yet predictable win, and the Supreme Court race sparked the most interest ending with the Democrat, Daniel McCafferty coming out on top. There were smaller battles throughout the districts but all-and-all nothing really out of the ordinary. 

The drama came where you’d least expect it—Pennsylvania’s suburban school boards. 

Three Pennsylvania suburban schools, Central Bucks, Pennridge, and Perkiomen Valley, who for the last 2 years had entire Republican school boards have now turned Democratic as of this November. This comes at a pivotal point in these schools policies which have specifically been hurting transgender and LGBTQ students. 

In the Perkiomen Valley School District a policy was passed to ​​ban transgender students from using restrooms aligned with their gender identities. This came after months of debate between parents, the board, and LGBTQ students/supporters pleading to not enact a policy that would marginalize already vulnerable students. Despite their effort, the resolution was passed on a 5-4 decision. 

Along with Perkiomen, the Central Bucks School Board also instituted discriminatory practices against these communities in passing a controversial policy prohibiting employees of the district from advocating for or displaying items that reflect partisan, political, or social policy agendas.

Although not directly stating so this was clearly targeted to LGBTQ students as the Central Bucks administration had been under heat for advising teachers against displaying pride flags in their classroom. The board also advanced a policy that would ban transgender students from participating in sports teams aligned with their gender identities. 

Ex-Superintendent Abram Lucabaugh and Ex-Board President Dana Hunter listened to complaints at the Central Bucks School District Board Meeting in July 2022 | Source: STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer

This prevention of displays and forced use of biological sex bathrooms sent a message to the students that their identities didn’t matter and shouldn’t be discussed creating a dangerous climate for these students. 

The environment only got worse with the addition of book banning in the Central Bucks district for books containing “sexualized content.” The only two books that were banned were Gender Queer and This Book is Gay, showing clear homophobia being instilled in the community. The American Civil Liberties Union even filed a discrimination complaint against the Central Bucks School District in October 2022 alleging it perpetuated a “hostile environment for LGBTQ students.”

The complaint detailed incidents of bullying and discrimination that were ignored by staff and administrators. A similar complaint was filed this month in Pennridge. These policies angered students, parents and many democrats alike as they fought for changes in the two years since they were enacted. However, without any role on the board or in the district they struggled to make a difference and overall students sadly became collateral damage as board meetings turned into ugly political spats. This all changed on November 7th. 

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For this election—a battle between Democrats and Republicans, five seats were up for grabs for each school. Voters showed they had been through enough. As conservatives poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the race and even posted yard signs that said “Groom dogs, not kids,” Democrats in Central Bucks, Pennridge, and Perkiomen swept all the five seats, giving them control of the boards.

In an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, Susan Spicka, executive director of Education Voters PA, a pro-public education advocacy group, explained the reasoning behind the win: “the people who had the message that we don’t want chaos, we don’t want to attack children, we don’t want to ban books—that message resonated incredibly strongly with voters.” 

This big win for Democrats is leading to a strong revisit in Republican policies with 57.7% of the votes cast in these districts having a “resounding rejection” to the Republican-controlled board’s agenda. In rejecting these policies this has given hope to students who’ve been discriminated against and have advocated for a change. They’re able to not live in fear of showing and being proud of their identities. 

It was a victory for students and teachers, as voters came out in hopes to end the divisive politics and bring school board meetings back to a sense of normalcy.  


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