EAST PENN SCHOOL DISTRICT
The July 9 East Penn School Board meeting began with a debate over parental rights between factions supporting the airing of Gay Straight Alliance student videos during the high school morning announcements in April and those critical of them.
Addressing the board regarding the issue was William Bassett, who begins his senior year at Emmaus High School this fall. Bassett announced “I am gay,” and contended the videos were, “merely informative.”
Aidan Levinson, another EHS senior, defended the administration, board and LGBTQ videos with, “They were part of the morning announcements program which is a student project.” He continued, “This misconception that information on the videos was not given out ... the titles were given, they said they were on YouTube.”
Michelle Blagbrough, of Allentown, who brought up the subject at the June 11 meeting, returned to advocate for what she considered her parental rights.
“I feel the need again tonight to stand up to these activist bullying tactics,” she said adding, “At the June 25 board meeting, it is clearly apparent that the superintendent, the solicitor and several activist board members had tried to paint me as a homophobic, hateful bully.” Blagbrough described the videos as works that “promoted alternative lifestyles.” She said, “As parents we have a right to know, to ask questions about, what you are teaching our children during the school day.”
Rev. Andrew Damick, pastor of St. Paul Antiochian Orthodox Church, Emmaus, commented, “Anything that is shown publicly to the school should be subject to parental notification.” He expressed the videos fell outside what he considered homework or a classroom presentation. Damick also emphasized, “No one should be bullied for any reason.
Emmaus resident John Donches likened the current situation about parental rights to a past incident regarding a controversial book being listed on an eighth grade mandatory summer reading list some parents had objected to. Donches said, “This is a parental rights issue! This isn’t a homophobia issue that you have turned it into!”
On a different subject, Emmaus resident Lynn Donches urged the directors to arrange for videotaping of the meetings. “Videotaping is simple,” she said and suggested the videos be uploaded to YouTube and the district’s website.
Director of Special Education Dr. Linda Pekarik, accompanied by Counseling Department Chair Jennifer Carolla, and Tammy Patterson, Communities in Schools coordinator at EHS, brought the board up to speed on the district’s Communities in Schools program. The national nonprofit agency provides dropout prevention among other services to students at EHS.
Pekarik said the organization helps students cope with mental health issues like suicide ideation, self harm, anger, depression, anxiety, grief/loss, family issues and gender identification.
Patterson and Carolla took turns describing the three-tier level of services.
Tier 1 involves school-wide activities with suicide prevention cards, an after-school yoga class, “Know the Signs” cards for mental health awareness and vaping prevention resources.
Tier 2 is for targeted youth referred to the program. Services include coping skills taught to anxiety and anger management groups, and a “Lunch Bunch” social skills group. A grief group was attempted, but drew little student interest, and is now planned for next year.
Tier 3 provides one-on-one counseling with case-managed students. The site coordinator also collaborates with staff, faculty, parents and attends individualized education program meetings.
The reported end-of-year results for CIS at EHS showed 60 percent of the students made progress toward an academic goal, 74 percent met or made progress with attendance, 60 percent met or made progress with school behavior and 54 percent achieved progress with social and emotional learning.
CIS Director of Operations in the Lehigh Valley Wendy Seiffert assisted during the question and answer session after the formal presentation.
Superintendent Kristen Campbell reported continued progress on the full-day kindergarten implementation for the new school year beginning in August. All faculty positions have been filled and personnel have begun professional development training for the transition. Instructional material has also been ordered. “This August we will invite our kindergarten students and their parents for a kindergarten orientation,” Campbell said.
Campbell also discussed the extended school year which began July 2 and ends Aug. 2 for the approximately 240 students enrolled in special education.
The board accepted the retirement of Assistant Superintendent Denise Torma effective Sept. 28. Campbell praised Torma, who has worked for East Penn since 1991, as “a loyal colleague and friend to me and to East Penn.”
In other personnel matters, the directors accepted the resignation of Lower Macungie Middle School sixth grade teacher Jena Gardner effective June 27 and EHS Assistant Director of Athletics and Activities Marc Zimmerman effective Aug. 24. Zimmerman recently accepted a position as athletic director for Southern Lehigh High School.
Professional employee appointments for EHS were approved for Jacqueline McMullen as mathematics teacher, Shannon Petrunak as English teacher and Emily Schwartz and Barbara Vergamini as special education teachers in autistic support.
Approved new hires include learning support teacher Marissa Weidner for Lincoln Elementary School, English as a second language teacher Caitlin Ross and instructional support teacher Timothy Murphy for Willow Lane Elementary School.
Dylan Peters was approved as a new technology integration specialist for the district.
The board conducted a first reading of board policy updates regarding asthma inhalers, epinephrine auto-injectors and transportation policies.
There was an executive session scheduled prior to the public meeting 7 p.m. involving negotiations and litigation.
The East Penn Board of School Directors meet regularly 7:30 p.m. on the second and fourth Monday of each month, with only one meeting in July. The next meeting is scheduled for Aug. 13, in the board room of the administration building.