In April, Attorney Michael Rinaldi delivered a 2-hour long live-streamed presentation (paid for and approved by the Republican school board majority). Rinaldi’s report was commissioned in direct response to the previous ACLU complaint, now being investigated by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), alleging a “toxic educational environment for LGBQT students that has been exacerbated by homophobic and transphobic actions and policies recently taken by the school board and upper-level administrators.”
The conclusion of Rinaldi’s extensive report seemed to be that any blame for discrimination of LGBTQ kids in Central Bucks School District could be pinned on one individual: Mr. Andrew Burgess, beloved Lenape Middle School teacher.
If this verdict seemed questionable to you (like it did to many others) you’re in good company.
The ACLU released new, damning information in a complaint this week which completely repudiates the District and its lawyers’ claims and puts into further question WHY the District would spend $1.4 million of our taxpayer money on an unnecessary investigation led by a Trump-appointed lawyer, Bill McSwain, who is infamous for attacking a West Chester Area School District middle school’s Gender-Sexuality Alliance student club during his failed campaign for governor of Pennsylvania.
The central argument presented by lead attorney McSwain and his associate Rinaldi was that Burgess went against District policy and reported a case of discrimination against an LGBTQ student to the Federal Office of Civil Rights (OCR) instead of first reporting to his school’s principal. Rinaldi claimed that Burgess’s rationale for filing the complaint was to embarrass members of the school board who were creating policies Burgess didn’t support.
But there’s a big problem with that accusation. As the ACLU report reveals, the policy Burgess supposedly violated was created one month AFTER the school district suspended him.
This begs the question: Why was Burgess punished for violating a policy that did not yet exist?
Another key point that Rinaldi chose not to mention in his presentation was that Burgess did not initiate the complaint. In fact, it was the student in question and the parent who requested the OCR complaint be filed, due to their previous unsatisfactory interactions with Administration. Contrary to what Rinaldi reported, the ACLU report shows that the parent actually signed the required OCR consent form that was submitted with the complaint.
“Time and time again, the district’s attorneys and administrators went out of their way to sully the reputation of an upstanding, wonderful teacher,” said Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “They even went so far as to put on a show trial for the community in April, further damaging Andrew’s professional credibility. What they’ve done here is illegal retaliation. They were warned by the Office for Civil Rights not to retaliate against Andrew or anyone else who filed complaints, and they did it anyway, at the cost of over a million dollars to district taxpayers.”
If Rinaldi had interviewed the parent in his 140-page long report, he would have known the extensive role they played in filing the complaint.
While, at first glance, it may seem like an unusual decision not to talk to the people who were supposedly harmed by Burgess’ actions, it makes sense when you consider that the report was never intended to actually find the truth, rather, it was written to accommodate a predetermined political conclusion.
Although Rinaldi never spoke with the aggrieved parents or student, he and his team did spend 4 hours interrogating Burgess in a forced interview, with no legal counsel provided.
During this interrogation, Burgess was intimidated, bullied, and manipulated into providing answers that matched the narrative Rinaldi was paid to present.
But the issues with CBSD’s report don’t end there.
One of Rinaldi’s other major contentions was that the District was not aware that Burgess had filed an OCR complaint until they paid McSwain for their own private investigation.
As the new ACLU report pointed out, the facts do not support their claim – or in other words, they lied. According to the District’s own records, on April 19, 2022, Mrs. Geanine Saullo, principal of Lenape Middle School, documented a list of incidents shared by a student that was used to help the student fill out the OCR form. Additionally, when the District suspended Burgess on May 6 and seized the contents of his office, a copy of the OCR complaint and bullying incidents were on his desk.
This evidence shows that the District knew full well about the OCR complaint before hiring McSwain to investigate.
So, why did they lie?
As alarming as these new revelations are, equally disturbing is the way the District used its expensive, fabricated story to abuse, intimidate, and defame a respected teacher and known ally to LGBTQ students, particularly during a time when the District was already being accused of discrimination.
Despite the mounting evidence proving no wrongdoing on his part, Burgess is still suspended without pay and the District has yet to make any attempt to rectify the inexcusable damage they did to his reputation.
So, why did the District spend $1.4 million of taxpayer money on an investigation that defamed a teacher through outright lies and easily provable factual errors?
One can only speculate that, with Board President Dana Hunter running for re-election and Superintendent Abram Lucabaugh hoping to keep his job, the School Board Majority was looking for any opportunity to divert attention away from their own misconduct.
Unfortunately, this falsified report commissioned by the District is only one example of the corruption that has plagued the district since the Moms For Liberty connected school board directors took office in 2021. School Board President Dana Hunter’s secret dealings with the Independence Law Center (the legal arm of the far-right Christian PA’s Family Institute), Lucabaugh’s unprecedented and undeserved 40 percent raise, and the complete lack of civility shown by the Board majority are all indicative of the backlash politics, vindictiveness, and deception that is eating away at the District.
This is also not the first time the District has been caught in a direct lie. In February, Superintendent Lucabaugh said, in a statement sent to WHYY, “no books have been challenged, nor has any book been removed from a library” even though a leaked email that was sent to district librarians and provided to the news organization says otherwise. “We have five book challenges and will need to form reconsideration committees for each of the books,” the email states, which Lucabaugh apparently didn’t know they had. Oops.
Unfortunately, the new slate of Republican candidates seems to offer a continuation of the extremism that we’ve seen over the last few years. In fact, this new CB Forward slate is also backed by Paul Martino, the same MAGA multimillionaire investor who gave us the sitting Moms For Liberty board members. In one example of the new slate’s dishonesty, the CB Forward candidates have continued to insist that Board Director Karen Smith was responsible for the OCR investigation, despite all evidence to the contrary.
If elected, the CB Forward Slate will undoubtedly offer more of the same chaos … chaos that has landed CBSD on national news time and time again for the Republican school board’s harmful policy decisions.
One only needs to look to neighboring Pennridge to see the direction CBSD will likely go if the Board continues to be led by extremists. Pennridge recently fired all of their curriculum consultants and hired a newly formed, Moms For Liberty connected-company to provide Trump’s 1776-style curriculum to the District at an inflated rate.
Under their own Martino-supported board, Pennridge has seen a slew of dysfunctional school board meetings that dissolve into chaos before any real board business is able to be conducted. Never mind the de facto book banning the school board is undertaking under the guise of “weeding” out old, obsolete books.
We can not allow Central Bucks to continue down this same dangerous path.
Our community deserves better. Our children deserve better.
Five school board seats will be up for election in November. We have a real opportunity to bring back level-headed leadership to Central Bucks.
But, this win will not come easily. Martino has vowed to spend whatever it takes to win the election. Under his leadership, the CB Forward candidates have already sent an army of canvassers to spread misinformation door-to-door. The personal attacks and lies will continue to ramp up as the election gets closer.
It’s time for us to unite as a community and say extremism has no place in our District. It’s time for us to spread the word about how essential this election is. It’s time for us to support the Neighbors United slate.
It’s time for us to flip this board.