Penncrest is a small rural district up the road from me, a district that has been mirroring the reading suppression battles of the more famous Central Bucks School District (and by mirror, I mean that some folks on the Penncrest board appear to be literally copying some of the Central Bucks work).
But Central Bucks is a big district in the busy part of the state, and Penncrest is a tiny district up in the wilderness, so it’s not getting much attention. But it’s worth paying attention to, because here in the rural school region, it’s not unusual for board members to say the quiet part out loud because they don’t realize they shouldn’t. That happens a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that the rest of the state doesn’t pay much attention to what rural districts do. Someday I’ll tell you the story of a local district that fired a teacher for being gay, didn’t bother to cover that reason with even a tiny fig leaf, and was really surprised when they were dragged into court and lost.
Penncrest has been trying to wield a tiny tattered fig leaf over its motivations for a new set of rules aimed at getting LGBTQ+ books out of its libraries, even as some board members have been quite clear about what they mean by “sexualized content,” and while we’re at it, all that racism stuff, too.
Board member David Valesky on LGBTQ books in the library:
Besides the point of being totally evil, this is not what we need to be teaching kids. They aren’t at school to be brainwashed into thinking homosexuality is okay. Its [sic] actually being promoted to the point where it’s even ‘cool’.
Board member David Valesky on books about race in American history:
“I don’t have an issue if we’re giving books that’s targeting education of the Civil War and slavery and there is racism even today, but this is obviously like shoving it down every corner,” he said.
Valesky said there were four books on the list that “openly promote the hate group Black Lives Matter.”
“That’s a group that is for destroying,” he said. “They aren’t protecting Black lives.”
Board member David Valesky on the possibility of legal challenges to the board’s new rules:
If we go to court over it, so be it, because at the end of the day we’re standing up for what’s right and for what God has said is right and true.
Those legal issues may in fact occur soon, but in the meantime, the board is setting up a citizen’s committee to review naughty books. And in discussing that, board members ended up talking about what was revealed in some emails unearthed by a Right To Know request.
I believe the terms in the policy we presented are clear. I honestly don’t care what the law says, as long as what I said is right before God. They can change the word at any time in state and federal laws. I’m just concerned that if this policy is pulled, then we have a minimum of 3 months until we can vote on it again. The remainder of my time on the board is uncertain at this point.
Yes, that’s member David Valesky again (emphasis mine). Member Jeff Brooks brought it up with the suggestion that maybe the committee should include people who actually care about the law. Valesky said that it was taken out of context, but it’s hard to imagine a context in which “I don’t care what the law says” doesn’t mean “I don’t care what the law says.” And given the context of Valesky’s previous comments, it’s hard not to think that he means that he doesn’t care what the law says.
Don’t blame Valesky just because he’s the one who keeps saying things that end up in the paper; he’s part of a board majority that appears to agree with him (and plenty of members of the public, some of who hit my comments sections with posts too rude and slanderous for me to put up). And what this board nakedly displays is the same stuff that’s behind curtains and masks and tiny fig leaves in other places where the culture wars are being imposed on districts.
What can we take away?
1) It has nothing whatsoever to do with school choice (not really an option in this rural area) and everything to do with imposing the Correct Values on the school system-including all the other people who use it and pay for it.
2) “Sexual content” means any dirty heterosexual stuff and any mention of LGBTQ persons at all (and it’s all “porn” that is favored by “groomers.”)
3) No conversation about race-related issues is possible because the terms and targets will move on a sentence by sentence basis.
4) They answer to nobody but God, as they conceive Him to Be.
Penncrest has a bunch of seats open for election this year, and in this neck of the woods, it’s an unpaid position, which means community members sign up to get a load of grief for free, and the ongoing battle over these issues in Penncrest seems unlikely to resolve any time soon. We’ll see what happens next, but I can practically guarantee that whatever it is, it won’t be pretty.
This was originally published at the progressive education blog Curmudgucation.