The future of the Council Rock School District is at stake in this election, according to Rebecca Tillet, chair of the Together for Council Rock candidates’ steering committee.
“We’re in danger of becoming the next battleground for the far-right, who have already created such chaos in neighboring districts. We must keep Council Rock focused on education, not culture wars,” said Tillet.
Together for Council Rock opponents include three Moms for Liberty-aligned candidates: Moms for Liberty members Anne Horner and Natalya Khavulya, who are both part of a private Moms for Liberty Facebook group, and Stephen Nowmos, who signed the Moms for Liberty pledge.
“Existing School Board members have already expressed interest in book bans and censorship policies,” said Tillet. “If they’re joined by the Moms for Liberty and their allies, we will see the same sort of political turmoil that has engulfed Central Bucks and Pennridge.”
In 2021, Moms for Liberty candidates got elected to two of Council Rock’s neighboring school districts – Central Bucks and Pennridge. Since then, policies have changed at both districts in a way that critics say prioritizes right-wing politics over what’s best for students and teachers.
In January, the Central Bucks School District passed a policy that bans teachers from engaging in “advocacy activities” and displaying Pride flags in their classrooms. Then in May, after changing its book challenge policy, the district removed and banned Gender Queer and This Book is Gay from its school libraries, two of 65 books the board is reviewing for so-called “sexualized” content. The list includes titles such as Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Jean Kwok’s Girl in Translation, and Go Ask Alice. School board President Dana Hunter even admitted to Reuters that she secretly worked with the Independence Law Center, the legal arm of the right-wing, anti-LGBTQ Christian Pennsylvania Family Institute, to craft the district’s new book challenge policy and regulations.
Last Fall, the Pennridge school board passed a policy prohibiting “sexualized content” in library books, then began secretly removing books under the pretense of “weeding” old and obsolete titles. Just last week the school district was rebuked by a judge for engaging in what amounted to a “cover up” of its de facto book banning; he noted the district “altered records” while responding to Right-to-Know requests and “thwarted public access to public information.” Earlier this year, the Pennridge district adopted a new policy that banned teachers from “advocating” to students about “religion, sexual orientation and gender identity” when not “applicable to the curriculum.” Like in Central Bucks, this also meant the removal of LGBTQ Pride flags from classrooms. And Pennridge’s far-right school board is now injecting its politics into what’s taught in classrooms. It brought in Hillsdale College graduate and former employee of the Christian school Jordan Adams to “consult” on district curriculum, which has actually meant he is writing part of it and has led to the introduction of Hillsdale 1776 to ninth grade social studies. Adams was a speaker at this summer’s Moms for Liberty national summit in Philadelphia and told the crowd “the fox is in the hen house.”
The fear is that Council Rock could be the next district to go down this road.
Key issues facing Council Rock School Board
A wide range of issues face the district’s schools and school board, including learning loss, mental health, student safety, and budgeting, amongst many others.
Former board member Kristin Marcell, who was elected to the state legislature and resigned from the board in January, voted against seventh graders reading The Giver by Lois Lowry at a June 2022 meeting.
Will book banning influence this election?
“Our community does not support book bans and we hear lots of concern about that issue when we’re talking with voters,” said Tillet. “Our opponents have reacted by saying there are no current book ban policies in Council Rock, ignoring the fact that their slate of candidates includes two members of Moms for Liberty, the nation’s leading driver of book bans, and an additional person who signed the Moms for Liberty pledge.”
Together for Council Rock and many voters they speak with are deeply concerned about what will happen if Moms for Liberty candidates join those on the Board who already expressed interest in book ban and censorship policies at a Policy Committee meeting.
In fact, Tillet said three of their School Board members did vote against two books that were recommended by teachers and curriculum experts, including The Giver, during a June 2022 meeting. Those members included Michael Roosevelt and Bob Hickey along, with Marcell.
Four of the regions have more Republicans than Democrats, and two have more Democrats than Republicans. Together for Council Rock thinks people are considering the candidates, not just the parties.
Tillet said when they cross-registered in the primaries back in May (a common practice with school board races), they earned between 18% and 32% of Republican votes, because those voters understand the stakes in this election and want to support reasonable, common-sense candidates.
“Voters in Council Rock want our School Board to focus on real issues and real solutions, not fear-mongering and manufactured culture wars,” concluded Tillet. “Together for Council Rock candidates will keep our School Board focused on preparing our students to succeed and to reach their full potential.”
What Democratic Candidates Are Saying
Tracey Osecki has been a Newtown Borough resident since 2011. Osecki has served on the Newtown Borough Parks and Recreation Board since 2016, first as treasurer and now as co-chair.
“We have a moral obligation to produce critical thinkers who are passionate about learning and prepared to thrive in today’s world,” said Osecki. “Our kids need leaders who model critical thinking and collaboration. I’m running for School Board because my children, and all our children, deserve a School Board focused on their needs and their education, not culture wars.”
Nicole Khan is the mother of an elementary school Council Rock student and a leader in his school’s PTO. She ran for this School Board seat in 2021, losing by just 7 votes out of more than 2,900 cast. Since that election, she has continued to attend school board meetings regularly and to advocate for the Council Rock community.
“I didn’t have the opportunity to go to school until I was adopted at age seven, and since then education has been at the center of my life,” said Khan. “I am a former teacher, the parent of a Council Rock student, and a PTO leader, and I know what a difference a great School Board can make. As a School Board Director, I will stand up for excellence in education and for open communication that builds trust with students, parents, voters, and educators.”
A resident of Northampton Township for more than 40 years, Kim Winnick is a Council Rock grad and a proud mom of Council Rock and Middle Bucks Institute of Technology graduates. She credits her public school education with instilling both her love of learning and her desire to be of service.
“Like most Council Rock voters, I want strong public schools that give all students the freedom to reach their full potential,” said Winnick. “When Moms for Liberty, like my opponent, join School Boards they impose book bans and other extremist policies that undermine public education and devalue many students who already feel marginalized. We cannot allow this to happen in Council Rock. As a mother who raised three children with diverse learning requirements, I have firsthand experience advocating for my kids, and I’m looking forward to advocating for all our children as a School Board Director.”
On November 7 Bucks County will find out if “most Council Rock voters” reject the extremist Moms for Liberty agenda being played out in Central Bucks and Pennridge.