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Public Comment Takes Center Stage At Pennridge School Board Meeting

Meanwhile, parents who voted for change in November are becoming increasingly frustrated and impatient with the new school board majority’s lack of action.

School Board President Ron Wurz opened Monday’s meeting with a statement to clarify the Board’s plan to review and make revisions to policies enacted by the former far-right Republican school board following what can only be described as loud rumblings within the Pennridge community.

“Over the past few months, we’ve been reviewing many administrative regulations and policies,” Wurz said.

“We want to ensure that all students are treated equally,” Wurz added. “We are working with the administration to resolve these outstanding issues. We believe the administration should be writing all the policies and the administrative regulations under our guidance.” Wurz also said that the legality of specific policies is also being reviewed.

Specific policies, some drafted with guidance from the Independence Law Center, are of particular concern to Pennridge students, parents and taxpayers and include #720 Restroom & Locker Room Facilities, #321 Advocacy Activities, #123.3 Sex-Based Distinction in Athletics, and #109 Resource Materials also referred to as the library policy.

The Independence Law Center is the legal arm of the highly partisan and ultra-religious PA Family Institute, a lobbying group that is closely associated with the D.C.-based Family Research Council – deemed a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its anti-LGBTQ+ position.

“Two issues we are focusing on right now are our library and counseling,” Wurz said. “We are waiting on a response to resolve outstanding issues with the library books. There has been a lot of confusion about this, and it isn’t about what is and what isn’t in the library. I trust our administration will correct any past errors and return the control of the library books to where it rightfully belongs.”

READ: The Independence Law Center Seeks to Impose its Biblical Worldview on Pennsylvania School Districts

Proposed policy revisions stem from the 2023 election when control of the Pennridge School Board shifted from Republican to Democratic.

Aside from Wurz’s opening statement, the remainder of the meeting was relatively performative, with the exception of public comment.

At its core, public comment fell into one of two camps: inclusive or exclusive.

First up to the podium for the second public comment period was Richard Byrnes, who quoted a myriad of statistics to bolster his accusation that transgender youth have some form of mental illness.

LISTEN: Raising a Transgender Child in an Increasingly Transphobic Country, with Brett Freeman

“Also, 70% of gender dysphoric kids have an array of preexisting mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, ADD, autism, eating disorders, and sexual abuse,” he said.

Byrnes also spoke highly of Miriam Gross, a physician who has actively promoted anti-trans propaganda for years and supports the philosophy of the American College of Pediatrics.

The American College of Pediatrics is an organization whose name is not unsimilar to Moms for Liberty. Until you actually pull back the curtain, what appears legitimate likely isn’t.

Long considered a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the American College of Pediatrics falls into an alcove of far-right organizations funded by the Heritage Foundation, Donors Trust, the Charles Koch Foundation, the DeVos Family Foundation, the Leadership Institute, and the list goes on.

Barbara Vees, a 2023 GOP school board director candidate who lost her race, also provided public comment and talked about the ramifications of “therapy.”

“From the Greek, iatrogenesis literally means originating with the healer and refers to the phenomenon of a healer harming a patient in the course of treatment,” she said. “It just makes you wonder what we’re doing to our kids with different therapy.”

“We have a prayer circle before the meetings, and we prayed for our board. We prayed for the audience, and we certainly prayed for our kids and I think that’s what we need to do,” Vees concluded.

Sandwiched between Byrnes and Vees was Pennridge parent Kimberly Kulp, who opened her public comment by saying, “I am the very, very proud and blessed mother of three children of color.”
 
“I so wish I could say that we’re here simply to cheer on the wonderful things happening in this district, because there are wonderful things happening. However, this isn’t the case,” Kulp said. “Tonight, I’m here to address an issue that is rampant, yes, rampant, within our school district and that is racism and intolerance.”

READ: Civil Rights Complaint Filed Against Pennridge School District

Kulp went on to describe heartbreaking experiences her one child has experienced in the school and on school buses by students who hurl racial epithets, knowingly or unknowingly, at her daughter.

“Imagine how devastating it is to see her cry as she begs you to explain why people don’t like her hair, why she’s so different, why boys who’ve never even talked to her or seen her feel as though they can cut her down in the bus line,” Kulp said.

“We cannot continue to allow and expect our children of color, LGBTQ+ youth, to internalize and accept the ugliness, racism, and indifference that has [been] thrown their way. We cannot continue to act as if our district isn’t broken as a direct result of the cultural shift towards white makes right. We are here today to ask you to move the needle and address a systemic issue in the Pennridge District.”

There is irony that Kulp’s statement was separated by the comments of two individuals who appear to have difficulty accepting the fact that we are all connected and that the loss of one affects us all.

Her daughter “was the victim of another racist incident when the N-word was sung on the bus directly at her by a sweet yet ignorant child who couldn’t understand the impact of his words,” Kulp recounted. “This child is her friend, and he has a kind heart, but he’s never heard the term microaggression. He hasn’t been taught to make [the] connection between music and racism.”

Bigotry, supremacy and discrimination aren’t inherent in children, they are learned behaviors that, like oil and water, do not mix with Christianity or prayer circles that tilt at windmills.

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Jenny Stephens

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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