New Pennridge School Board Majority Detours From Prior Board’s Dysfunction

Tackling major issues with civility, including policy revisions and curriculum changes, was a welcomed change from the wrangling and backstabbing of the last two years.

The Pennridge Curriculum, Policy and Personnel committees met for the first time under a Democratic majority on Wednesday with a lengthy agenda that resulted in a four-hour meeting.

Initial public comment included local parent Laura Foster. “I’m very thankful to the new composition in the Board. It’s my hope that the Board will work to change the climate of racism, homophobia, and transphobia in the schools,” she said.

Foster sent a message to students watching the meeting saying they may once again hear homophobic and transphobic rhetoric during the meeting. “Know that you are on the right side of history and that the vitriols spilled by the homophobes in our community is their cross to bear, not yours.”

Hilltown resident Janelle Montigney also provided public comment that hinted at a game of  ‘whisper down the lane’ to show her continued support of Policy 720, Use of Restroom and Locker Facilities, despite the policy not appearing on the evening’s agenda.

Montigney read a statement on behalf of a Pennridge student that she identified as a friend’s daughter who described an alleged altercation in a school bathroom.

Enacted by the former far-right board, the policy is thought to be a product of the Independence Law Center. ILC has ties to PA Family Council, and D.C.-based Family Research Council, a conservative Christian organization designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The Personnel Committee reviewed changing the job description for the Director of Pupil Services to Student Services/Title IX Compliance Officer.

It was explained that the Title IX position is not new and a requirement of all Pennsylvania school districts.

Additionally, a Title IX complaint was recently filed against the district.

“Let’s say a student goes home and says they were a target of a discriminatory attack,” District Superintendent Angelo Berrios said. “I want a mechanism where a parent can go online, fill out a form of sorts, it goes to our Title IX compliance officer and this person can initiate an investigation.”

Berrios added this new procedure will provide a process to enable more accurate documentation and investigation that goes beyond a simple email from a parent to a principal or other district employee.

The Policy Committee introduced a Policy Update Plan to ensure that all district policies are:

• Safe for all students – Does not allow for, or put our students at risk of physical or mental harm

• Fair – Does not put a group of students at an advantage or disadvantage

• Clear – limit vague wording, provide definitions

• Can be implemented – ensure effected staff, facilities, etc. have the tools needed or updates necessary prior to policy approval

• Can be enforced – how do we ensure the policy is being followed?

• Does not make the district susceptible to litigation – Does any aspect of the policy, its implementation or enforcement, violate legal precedent, staff or student’s rights, our own policies, etc.

The committee intends to maintain a priority list of policies that will identify policies requiring updates based on recommendations from the Pennsylvania School Board Association as well as board initiated policies that will require more extensive discussion and updating.

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An assortment of policies were included on the list for committee discussion and included revisions to Policy 202 Eligibility of Nonresident Students, and Policy 251 Students Experiencing Homelessness, Foster Care and Other Educational Instability. Revisions to both policies were based on PSBA recommendations.

By and large, the revisions ensure that students experiencing any type of educational instability, including nonresident students, are provided with every service to which any other district student would be entitled.

Board director Jordan Blomgren asked for clarification of the policy’s terminology “migratory children who qualify as homeless.” She asked if these children were U.S. citizens and added “that would need to be defined.”

“I don’t think we’re allowed to deny them access based on their citizenship,” said Director Leah Rash.

Pennsylvania Code 22 [Education] §11.11(d) specifically states: “A child’s right to be admitted to school may not be conditioned on the child’s immigration status,” and “A school may not inquire regarding the immigration status of a student as part of the admissions process.”

The clarification did not appear to satisfy Blomgren who said that ‘migratory’ had not been included in the old policy, but Rash pointed out that it was.

No votes were taken on any of the policies pending further revision and discussion.

The Pennridge School Board will meet again on Monday at 7 p.m. for an action meeting.

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Jenny Stephens

Jenny Stephens is a freelance journalist who has written for a variety of publications, including The Reporter. An avid collector of all things vintage, she resides in the Philadelphia area.

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