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All-Girls School Reverses Course on Policy Admitting Biological Males Who Identify as Women

AP Photo/Jeff Chui

Townhall covered earlier this month how an elite all-girls prep school in Nashville, Tennessee announced it would allow biological males who identify as women to apply to the school. The announcement generated “mixed reactions” with some graduates telling local outlets it’s “not beneficial to the school” to allow boys to attend. Now, the $33,000-a-year prep school is reversing course on its decision.

Harpeth Hall School, which dates back to 1865 and includes alumnae like comedian Minnie Pearl, singer Amy Grant and actresses Willa Fitzgerald and Reese Witherspoon, paused the implementation of their new “Gender Diversity Philosophy” that would have allowed males into the school. 

The decision to pause the implementation of the policy was made public on Thursday. A statement was shared with the school community detailing the change (via WKRN): 

“We recognize that this philosophy elicited strong reactions of support and oppositions beyond our expectations. We care deeply about your feedback and we have heard you. The Harpeth Hall Board of Trustees is choosing to pause the adoptions of the philosophy in order to engage a wider audience in continued discussion.”

WKRN noted that “several alums that wanted to remain anonymous” said they were not in favor of the new gender policy and were glad the school decided to pause it. 

Local outlet WSMV obtained and verified several letters from Harpeth Hall alum and donors showing “concerns and conflict” after the school announced that biological males would be allowed to attend. 

More than 1,000 parents, alumnae, and donors signed the first letter against the gender diversity policy change. Another anonymous letter sent later went further to call for school leaders to be replaced.

The first letter said, “the administration and board at Harpeth Hall have failed.” It goes on to state the school’s “reputation is damaged” and needs “fixing.”

Several community members including countless well-known Nashville doctors, lawyers and businessmen signed the petition

The school community members demanded in-person town hall meetings to discuss their concerns without media, crisis management or public relations teams. Multiple people who signed the letter told WSMV 4 that the school instead held virtual meetings where school leaders explained the six-year-long task force that investigated gender diversity at the school. However, many community members said they felt left out of the process.

The second anonymous letter called for the resignation of the “administration and board who have been proponents or enablers of political activism.” It also threatens to “withhold all financial contributions to the school” until their demands are met.

Harpeth Hall declined WSMV’s requests for an on-camera interview, and instead sent in a statement regarding the change. 

“The gender philosophy shared with Harpeth Hall’s current parents and school alumnae was a document designed to offer clarity about how the school approaches gender identity at Harpeth Hall,” a spokesperson said in the statement. “After hearing from parents and alumnae, the Harpeth Hall Board of Trustees decided to pause and provide additional opportunities for the school community to be involved in the discussion about gender identity in the context of Harpeth Hall’s all-girls school mission.”

The document initially sent to parents earlier this month stated that the school was “evolving” and that “the concept of gender has expanded and deepened over time.” It then outlined that biological male “trans” women would be allowed to attend and that the school would work with the families of biological female trans men to “evaluate next steps.”

With this objective in mind, we have adopted the following guidelines that outline how Harpeth Hall approaches gender diversity within the context of our girls school mission. 

– Harpeth Hall is a girls school. The school culture is unique and distinctly about girls, complete with the use of references to students as girls and young women and the collective use of female pronouns. Any student who identifies as a girl may apply to our school. Students who join and remain at Harpeth Hall do so because our mission as a school for girls resonates with them. 

– Harpeth Hall acknowledges the developmental journey of each student and recognizes that adolescence includes natural searching and questioning about many topics. For some students, this may include the question of gender identity and the desire to identify as nonbinary or use they/them pronouns. Harpeth Hall approaches gender identity with understanding and open communication, rather than with shame or othering, and will provide a safe environment to partner with each student and family to consider the needs and requests of the student on an individual basis. 

– If a student communicates a desire to be identified as male or adopt he/him pronouns, we recognize that our school, being a girls school, may no longer be a place that serves that student well. We see this acknowledgment as the ultimate form of respect: an understanding that we support the individual and the student’s gender identity. Harpeth Hall administration will work thoughtfully with the student and family to evaluate next steps.

In June, I spoke with women’s rights activist Kara Dansky, who authored the book "The Abolition of Sex: How the ‘Transgender’ Agenda Harms Women and Girls," and president of the U.S. chapter of Women's Declaration International, at a rally commemorating the 50th anniversary of Title IX. In our interview, Dansky told me how she is "extremely disappointed" in Biden administration’s effort to erase women and girls by redefining “sex” in federal law to include “gender identity.”

"Speaking solely for myself, I'm a lifelong Democrat. And I'm extremely disappointed in the current administration's attack on women's rights by redefining sex to include gender identity throughout federal administrative law," Dansky said. "It would be a travesty to try to redefine the word 'sex' for Title IX purposes, to include the nebulous, vague, and incoherent concept of gender identity."

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