EAST PENN SCHOOL DISTRICT
In a room nearly filled to capacity, the East Penn School Board June 25 meeting began with newly-appointed board member Allan Byrd taking the oath of office. Byrd replaces Alan Earnshaw with his term expiring Dec. 2, 2019.
Director Ken Bacher was elected president by his fellow board members with Director Paul Champagne chosen to serve as vice president.
The large turnout was the result of public reaction to what was said at the public forum at the June 11 meeting regarding a series of short LGBT anti-bullying videos shown during the high school’s morning announcements in May. Two parents, Mike Huff and Michelle Blagbrough, had complained their “parental rights” to review the student-produced projects before their children could see them had been violated. American Family Association of Pennsylvania President Diane Gramley, of Pittsburgh, had protested what she called the “lack of parental rights in the district.”
The first to address the board at the June 25 meeting was Kimberly Heinrichs, of Lower Macungie Township. “I am a parent of a daughter who identifies as gay,” she said. Heinrichs described how her child was frequently bullied in middle school with the harassment ending when she entered Emmaus High School. Heinrichs expressed gratitude for the staff and student groups like No Place for Hate and the Gay Straight Alliance for fostering a safe environment for her daughter who has since graduated.
Additional requests to address the board were granted to eight others.
EHS Class of 2019 student Joshua Sanville said of the AFA, “It deeply pains me that an organization, labeled as a hate group by The Southern Poverty Law Center would openly stand against the integration of LGBTQ students in our community were not only present at a meeting of this board, but were invited to come all the way from Pittsburgh to spread their hateful views.”
Joshua’s twin brother, Jeremy Sanville, the 2019 class president, touted the school’s “Unparalleled acceptance of all students,” adding, “We embrace our differences,” Sanville said. “The conduct of the Lehigh County Tea Party and the American Family Association at the last school board meeting was appalling and insulting!” He complained that, “One of the members of these groups, an adult, verbally assaulted a member of my class, my friend nonetheless!”
“I’d like to thank our outgoing superintendent Dr. Schilder for leaving the district better than what he found it,” Aidan Levinson said, who begins his senior year at EHS this fall. He defended the administration’s decision supporting the LGBTQ anti-bullying videos.
Levinson then described the incident Jeremy Sanville had condemned earlier. “During the last school board meeting, one of the audience members approached me and attempted to intimidate me by calling me a homophobic slur.” Levinson said. “To say the least, I was disgusted, and it helped me to understand what daily life is like for LGBTQ students when the rest of the student body has not had an opportunity to learn from them and understand them.” The teen said, “It didn’t surprise me to discover that the person who attacked me with the homophobic slur was a member of the local tea party.”
Director Carol Allen and Emmaus resident Barbara Tantaros, who often addresses the school directors, were criticized by Levinson as tea party members who invited the AFA to attend the June 11 meeting.
Emmaus student Ben Lewis asked, “Now, why an elected member of our school board would support bringing the kind of hate these people promote to this district is mind-boggling to me.”
Heather Harlen, of Emmaus, praised the administration and students for supporting LGBTQ students.
Zionsville resident Valerie Minett, who is in a same-sex marriage, gave kudos to the district’s handling of bullying issues her three adopted children faced. “I am disgusted that a member of this school board invited hate into our community,” she lamented.
Jesika Steuerwalt, of Emmaus, expressed pride in the districts’ students. “The adult conduct, however, on display at the last board meeting is the reason we need the anti-bullying efforts in our schools,” she said.
Joe Kaczmarek, of North Catasauqua, said, “The core issue is not really gay rights or homosexuality. The issue is the right for parents to be able to inspect what their children are exposed to in public schools.” He added, “And to have the right to have their children excused from activities that they believe do not comply with their moral or religious beliefs.” Kaczmarek is listed as a member of the Lehigh Valley Project 9/12 Tea Party Group.
Allen replied, “No comment,” when questioned upon adjournment about her involvement in the AFA attending an earlier meeting, on the advice of the school solicitor.
When contacted for comment, Gramley, who was in the audience but did not speak at the June 25 meeting, said of the June 11 meeting, “The hate that they described did not exist,” adding, “It had to do with parental rights.” She also objected to The Southern Poverty Law Center’s labeling the AFA as a “hate group.”
Retiring School Superintendent Dr. Michael Schilder reflected on the progress the school district had made during the last four years by all working together with full day kindergarten, a technology plan with 1:1 devices, 23 new courses added at the high school, formation of the East Penn Foundation, revision of 200 board policies, a school resource officer hire and new elementary math, writing and science programs.
Schilder concluded with, “Also worth noting tonight, is how the staff, board and community have always defended the rights and listened to the voices of our students. This is a community that has shown it will not tolerate bias, prejudice or bigotry in our schools, and I have faith that this community will continue to stand up for the rights of our LGBT population.”
In other business, Dr. Kristen Campbell resigned as assistant superintendent and begins her new position as superintendent July 1.
On other personnel matters, the directors accepted the resignation of EHS Assistant Principal Todd Breiner effective Aug. 14. Breiner is leaving the district for a new job as principal of Pleasant Valley Intermediate School. EHS social studies teacher and wrestling coach Nicholas LaFevre and Kristina Wall, who taught kindergarten at Willow Lane Elementary School, also resigned effective this month.
Professional employee appointments were approved for Julie Bradley to replace Chuck Sonon as a math teacher at EHS and Mary Dunlap to teach third grade at Shoemaker Elementary School upon the resignation of Loribeth Knauss. Other new hires include teacher Melissa Sell for fifth grade at Lincoln Elementary School, autistic support teacher Sierena Hettrick for Wescosville Elementary School, Kathleen Farrell to fill a new position as kindergarten teacher at Macungie Elementary School and Krystina Frei, a new fourth grade teacher also at Macungie Elementary School.
The directors unanimously approved PLANCON Part K: General Obligation Bonds, Series of 2018 for submission to the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Business Administrator Robert Saul explained the district will save around $393,000 with the refinancing.
The third reading and adoption of update of current policies was accomplished.
Director Allan Byrd was appointed to the Lehigh Career and Technical Institute joint operating committee to fulfill Earnshaw’s unexpired term through December 2019.
Director Charles Ballard reported the state legislature delivered a budget on time and was working on a “fleet of omnibuses.”
Directors Ziad Munson, Allen and Ballard were appointed as voting delegates for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association delegate assembly in October.
There was an executive session prior to the public meeting on personnel, litigation and negotiations.
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 July 9 in the board room of the administration building.