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Investigation: Claims of Widespread Anti-LGBT Bullying in PA School District Exposed As Politicized Hoax

In a lengthy article published last week, National Review's Ryan Mills details a political controversy that has embroiled a school district in suburban Pennsylvania since last spring.  In short, there were accusations that anti-LGBT bullying was running rampant, that officials were doing little to curb it, and that retaliatory steps were taken against a teacher who stood up for a trans student.  Based on an exhaustive review conducted by an outside law firm and commissioned by the local school board, basically none of that is actually true.  Via the NR piece, here is some of the relevant background:

The protests outside Lenape Middle School carried on for four straight days last May. Young students, some drawn by the lure of free pizza, walked out of their Pennsylvania school to wave rainbow flags and chant, “Hey hey, ho ho, transphobia has got to go” into a bullhorn.  The protesters — not just middle schoolers, but also local adult activists and high-school students — held signs that read “Protect Trans Kids.” They called for “justice” for a Lenape teacher who had been suspended, seemingly for filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights on behalf of a bullied transgender student. Protesters disrupted school. A couple of adult activists who’d helped to organize the protests drove around the school sounding their horns, and jumping curbs to evade the police. The school’s principal received death threats and profane emails for not opposing board policies the activists disapproved of. “What the f*** is wrong with your heart? You are a vile bitter human and it should be illegal for people like you to work around children,” one read.

And this is the crux of the accusations, as relayed by Mills:

Last fall, the American Civil Liberties Union in Pennsylvania filed a federal discrimination complaint against the district for engaging in “illegal discrimination” and for failing to “take reasonable and necessary measures to address persistent and severe bullying and harassment of LGBTQ+ students generally, and gender non-conforming students in particular.” ...As a result, the Office for Civil Rights launched four investigations into the district. The accusations were clear: For years, there has been an epidemic of LGBTQ bullying in the Central Bucks School District and at Lenape Middle School in particular, and district and school leaders have done little to curb it. Lenape social studies teacher Andrew Burgess was wrongfully suspended for filing the civil-rights complaint on behalf of a transgender student. And school leaders then discriminated against LGBTQ kids who protested Burgess’s suspension and district policies around topics like gender transitions and inappropriate library books.

But the intensive probe into these matters paints a very different picture:

A detailed and damning new investigative report released Thursday evening reveals that the narrative from the ACLU and Central Bucks activists is based on lies, and that they have intentionally painted a false picture to undermine the school board. The investigation, sanctioned by the board, was conducted by Philadelphia-based law firm, Duane Morris. According to the firm’s report, there is no epidemic of LGBTQ bullying in Central Bucks or at Lenape Middle School, and when there are accusations of bullying, the district’s leaders promptly address them. The report states that Burgess was not, in fact, disciplined for filing a complaint on behalf of a trans student, but rather for manipulating vulnerable students, and for intentionally hiding serious bullying allegations from school leaders. And, the investigation found, Burgess, along with some other teachers and activists, and at least one Democratic school-board member, Karen Smith, worked to “manufacture a crisis of supposed unaddressed bullying at Lenape.” They sought to launch federal civil-rights investigations, to garner negative press for the district, and then to use the federal probes and bad press to intimidate board members into changing policies the activists disapprove of.

The school board flipped to majority-conservative in 2021, and the investigation alleges that progressives within the district decided to concoct a public relations mess for the new board, whose policies and views they oppose. These leftists, in turn, say the investigation itself is a whitewash. Left-wing members of the board objected to the report even being released, then assailed it during a contentious meeting:

Michael Rinaldi, one of the investigators, then provided an in-depth, two-hour overview of the report, dissecting the ACLU’s allegations. Democratic board members were infuriated. Just discussing the allegations, even without naming individual students, put students in danger, said Smith and Mariaum Mahmud, another board member. Mahmud called the presentation a “joke narrative” and “biased.” Republicans on the board said it was the truth. “It’s not the truth. It’s your truth,” Mahmud said, insisting LGBTQ students “do not feel safe.” But during his presentation, Rinaldi said the evidence shows “this district puts a high priority on protecting students who allegedly suffer discrimination, bullying or harassment.” He also addressed the protests, and what the evidence they uncovered showed about them. “Outsiders descended on Lenape Middle school to disrupt the school’s operation, in defiance of lawful police orders,” Rinaldi said. “And the ACLU was right behind them.”

The actual retaliation here appears to be the progressive activists, including the teacher at the center of the kerfuffle, against the new school board -- for the sin of campaigning on parental rights and winning. The report states that these activists have essentially sought to manufacture a scandal in order to undermine the board and the election that installed the current 6-3 conservative majority:

After winning the election, the Republican-controlled board took a series of actions that have generally been supported by conservative parents nationwide, including: requiring parent permission to change a student’s name and pronouns, allowing community members to challenge library books for inappropriate content, and prohibiting teacher advocacy on political and social issues, which includes prohibiting gay-pride flags in classrooms...But those policies and other district efforts drew the ire of LGBTQ activists. According to the report, Burgess and other activists then engaged in efforts to “derail” the policies...“Mr. Burgess believed that, if he brought to light widespread unaddressed bullying and harassment of LGBTQ students and convinced a federal agency to investigate such matters, the School Board would cave to the inevitable criticism and bad press — particularly if Mr. Burgess, aided by the press, could convince the public that the School District’s new policies were the actual cause of such bullying and harassment.” “There was a flaw in this plan, however: there was no such epidemic of anti-LGBTQ bullying and harassment at Lenape Middle School or in District schools more generally.” According to the report, to generate allegations for a federal civil-rights investigation, Burgess coaxed two students, one of them potentially suicidal, to report accusations of LGBTQ bullying only to him.

Extremely sketchy. Sketchier still: "When questioned by investigators under oath, Burgess couldn’t identify a single instance of reported and unaddressed bullying, discrimination or harassment of an LGBTQ student in the district, which, according to the report, was a 'consistent refrain during our investigation. Witness after witness told us that they were unaware of any specific instances of reported and unaddressed bullying or harassment of LGBTQ students,' the report states."  The investigation entailed interviewing dozens of witnesses, "reviewed over 123,000 pages of documents, and reached out to LGBTQ students and their parents," per National Review.In most of the District’s schools, LGBTQ-related bullying is virtually nonexistent,” the report states. “Where it does exist, it is not pervasive and, in any event, is swiftly and appropriately addressed.”  The ACLU has dismissed all of its findings as a "sham," and the Democrat-aligned school board members are incensed that it has been made public.  Perhaps they're angry because one of them appears to have actively been a part of the true sham -- namely, the fabricated 'bullying' scandal: "According to the investigation, [Karen] Smith, one of three current Democratic Central Bucks school-board members, also was involved in efforts to subject to the district to a federal investigation."

It very much appears as though leftists in this school district and community didn't like the results of an election they lost, so they engaged in orchestrated agitation against the school board, using a bogus 'bullying' epidemic as the basis for their conniption fits.  And once their scheme was exposes by a thorough outside investigation, they're screaming that it's fake news and rigged.  And they insist they're the good guys in this whole political drama of their own making.  There need to be consequences and accountability.  And any student in the district who feels targeted should be reassured by the probe's core finding that anti-LGBT bullying is extremely rare in their community, and when isolated incidents were reported, they were dealt with swiftly.  This flies in the face of the fear-mongering hysteria some partisan adults were pushing on kids, which is indefensible.  Our society is not perfect, and never will be.  Bullying and unfair discrimination still exists, even as we've made progress on tolerance and acceptance.  But few phenomena underscore the scope of our collective progress more than the veritable explosion of 'hate' hoaxes that crop up far too often -- wherein activists are so committed to victimhood narratives that they invent instances of victimhood that reinforce the story they want to tell, whether it comports with actual reality or not.  Much of this is about politics and pushing agendas, not 'truth,' and certainly not genuine cultural progress.  Inventing or embellishing incidents like this is not only profoundly dishonest; it also does a grave disservice to those who might have real stories to tell.

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