Before Thursday’s presentation of Duane Morris’ report that the right-wing school board commissioned to refute the ACLU’s complaint alleging “a longtime toxic environment for LGBQ&T students in the district’s schools” – a complaint currently being investigated by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights – I had a gut feeling coming into the meeting that their outcome was a foregone conclusion and that the report’s content would be selectively chosen to reach that acquittal for the district. However, what I witnessed and the spectacle that unfolded at Central Bucks School District’s special school board meeting was even worse than I anticipated: a one-sided, interwoven tale of conspiracy theories creating an overall offensive response to the various complaints and lawsuits against the district.
Both my daughter and I spoke during public comment before the presentation to provide examples of our experiences with senior district administrators Superintendent Abe Lucabaugh and Director of Pupil Services Alyssa Martin to provide context of what it’s like for LGBTQ students and their parents. It was about two instances where we asked for help (though there have been more), and in response we received nothing in return. The same is true of prior conversations we had with Andrea DiDio-Hauber, the former human resources director and chief of staff for the district, as well as exchanges with school principals.
For example, last year I recounted how Lily (while in middle school) was threatened and harassed online by a group of boys – two of which currently attend CB East with her. They sent anonymous messages through social media – telling her to “kill herself” because of her gender identity. Prior to this incident and despite reports by Lily, herself, to middle school guidance and administration about the in-school harassment and bullying, one of these boys had been repeatedly placed in Lily’s classes without consideration for her safety or well-being in the classroom learning environment.
This is just one example. And we are just one family. My daughter Lily is a single student. I am one parent.
There are so many more students and families that have spoken up at meetings, sent letters, and shared their experiences with administrators – who are in a similar position. Yet, the high-priced ‘investigators’ and attorneys of Duane Morris haven’t found any reported instances or complaints; really? Or maybe this just doesn’t fit with the million dollar narrative the right-wing school board paid for so these voices were deemed unacceptable and were effectively erased.
While the prosecutorial presentation by Duane Morris attorney Michael Rinaldi was pure theater and showmanship, it was neither independent nor unbiased: it was simply what the board majority paid for. Make no mistake, as counsel to the district and school board, Duane Morris is paid to advocate for their client and they are not mere “independent” actors presenting “the truth” as they misleadingly want the Central Bucks community to believe. Never mind the report was based primarily on limited interviews with 45 individuals – with at least 35 believed to be employees of the district; what was glaringly missing from “the data” was input from students, parents, and other community members which is believed to have been done deliberately to 1) yield a biased outcome that supports the district’s narrative/legal position, and 2) keep damaging evidence out of the public record and away from public scrutiny.
I can certainly understand why countless others haven’t spoken up: because they may be fearful of retaliation or fearful to be outed further. Kids that have had outward displays of harassment and those that feel that they just don’t belong because of the toxic environment that has been created by the district administrators and the board. How dare Rinaldi say that what these youth have been experiencing in CB is part of life and what all kids go through. Basically, the message is: toughen up, suck it up and get a thick skin. Outrageous and unacceptable. This attitude just illustrates – yet again – how the engagement of Duane Morris [including co-counsel Bill McSwain who has demonstrated bias against the LGBTQ community] has itself contributed to the unsafe and toxic environment at CBSD for LGBTQ students and their families.
At Thursday’s meeting, my daughter Lily said, “Regardless of what is presented, I know for a fact, as a student that has first-handedly experienced and has talked to those who have experienced discrimination, that this is nothing but sheer hypocrisy,” adding “I want to participate in what I love and thrive in an educational environment just like everybody else, but I can’t do that if I don’t feel like I belong” [or that I’m welcome].
As a parent, this is heartbreaking; we all want our kids to be safe, happy, positioned to be successful, to put themselves out there and experience life, etc.; Lily should be worrying about “normal teen things” like learning to drive, her activities, preparing for college, what to do over the summer – things that many of you and your children can relate to – and not how she’ll be adversely impacted by the policies and agenda of the current board majority, her daily safety while at school, and the toxic environment that has become the CBSD (for kids like Lily).
As a parent, a former CBSD teacher, and a Buckingham resident for over 20 years , I have witnessed a pattern of minimization and lack of transparency within the district. For instance, when antisemitic activities have been reported (i.e. swastikas on school property), instead of calling these actions hate crimes, the district typically categorizes such as events as vandalism or the use of inappropriate images – often masking or not communicating to the community what really occurred and its impact. So are we now to believe that the same district is being fully transparent with reported issues by LGBTQ students and their families? I think not.
We can and need to do better for our children and the school district. This should start with the kids and focusing on things most affecting them – learning loss due to the pandemic, having adequate resources, and providing them with a quality public education; this means not focusing our efforts on questionable practices like sham investigations, book banning efforts and re-writing district policies to address manufactured issues. The School District and Dr Lucabaugh can continue down their path of denial, or seize the opportunity to make necessary changes as recommended by the ACLU to make CBSD a better, safer learning environment not just for LGBTQ students – but for all students and staff.
The Freeman family will not rely on the skewed analysis of politically motivated lawyers and their “hired” take on what is going on in CB. Rather, we look forward to hearing the findings of the Department of Education’s proper investigation of the facts relative to the ACLU’s complaint – and urge the CB community to do the same. Whatever the findings concluded by the investigation, we already know the truth because we aren’t just your neighbors and someone you see at Wawa or at a store or restaurant – we are the truth!