EAST PENN SCHOOL DISTRICT
The East Penn Board of School Directors received plenty of feedback in the district’s handling of the March 14 National School Walkout by residents and students at the March 26 meeting.
Emmaus High Student Government Association representative Alex Comfort reported on the 17-minute walkout. “Around 800 people, the Stinger reported, had participated in it,” he said, “I just think it was a great demonstration of solidarity among the student body on both sides.”
During the opportunity to address the board, 10 out of 11 from the meeting’s large audience praised the administration and directors’ handling of the student walkout, as well as the students’ responsible behavior at the event.
First to speak was EHS student Emily Lenhart.
“In my opinion, the walkout was everything I could have asked for,” Lenhart said. “Students were able to speak about any topic surrounding gun violence, making the walkout a safe place for expression of any opinion.”
Samantha Smith, another student at EHS who participated in the walkout, said, “We’re not pawns, we’re not sheep and we’re not snowflakes!” in response to those who had criticized the event. She cited the school’s mission statement regarding teaching them to be “critical thinkers.”
Usman Shah, of Macungie, echoed those sentiments, as did Mahim Shah, who voiced her support of the walkout, the students and the administration’s “appropriate manner” in handling the walkout. She was “disappointed” with one of the board members who had previously referred to the demonstrators as “pawns” at the previous meeting.
EHS student Aidan Levinson thanked East Penn School District Superintendent Dr. Michael Schilder and EHS Principal Dr. Kate Kieres and, along with others, noted the school’s “flex block” schedule prevented the walkout from taking the students away from class time.
Emmaus resident and “parent of a former Emmaus student” Anne Keller Smith sporting a small “I’m with the KIDS and EPSD” sign pinned to her vest said, “I also really appreciated the administration’s balanced approach.”
An emotional Jennifer Allen, a Zionsville parent of East Penn students, said she, “was thrilled with the response of the board and the superintendent.”
Louise Muzio and East Penn parent Shana Baumgartner, both from Emmaus, were grateful with the school’s and borough’s response to the walkout.
EHS student Caroline Nelson spoke about two school lockdowns she experienced during her freshman year. She said “We need to feel safe in this school and we need to be secure.”
Emmaus resident Barbara Tantaros, however, had a different point of view from the others. She scolded the administration for not heeding her advice at the previous meeting to “not allow this walkout during school hours, on school property, using up school time.” She again claimed a progressive political organization was behind the protest. “I don’t want any more walkouts during school hours. Let their voices be heard on their own time.” After she segued to a defense of the second amendment and began to exceed the three minute limit, boos and groans could be heard from some audience members. Board President Alan Earnshaw immediately reminded everyone to remain respectful.
Those speaking on less controversial issues included Lynn Donches, of Emmaus, who questioned the insurer broker compensation agreement and Macungie resident Tom Black who had questions for the board’s consideration regarding debt service refinancing.
Schilder read a prepared statement addressing the March 14 event. According to Schilder, approximately 800 students at EHS and 50 students from each of the middle schools participated. He said, “Student conduct was exemplary and their passion, integrity and independence were quite evident. At my direction, district administration facilitated the walkouts to ensure safety. No student was prevented from participating nor was any student punished for doing so. Students who participated in the walkouts acted on their own accord, with no prompting from East Penn educators.”
Schilder agreed with some of those who had addressed the board earlier with pride in the students, stating they are, “The embodiment of our own mission statement: ‘The East Penn School District will provide a learning environment in which students become effective problem-solvers, collaborators, critical thinkers and communicators.” He referred to this and additional plans the students have for addressing gun violence, with, “In many ways this is the ultimate civics lesson, as well as the ultimate teachable moment.”
There was no executive session scheduled for the evening.
The East Penn Board of School Directors meet regularly 7:30 p.m. on the second and fourth Monday of each month. The next meeting is scheduled for April 9 in the board room of the administration building.
In next week’s issue, we will report on Dr. Linda Pekarik, director of special education and her team who presented the directors with a special education comprehensive plan. Also at the meeting, Business Administrator Robert Saul presented the directors with a revised proposed final budget. The district is looking into debt service refinancing.