The battle between progressive activists and advocates for parents’ rights at Central Bucks School District will be settled at the ballot box this fall.

Both sides are fielding full slates of candidates for November’s election. The Republican primary slate is Dr. Stephen Mass, Board President Dana Hunter, Glenn Schloeffel, Aarati Martino, and Tony Arjona. The Democratic candidates are school board member Karen Smith, Heather Reynolds, Dana Foley, Rick Haring, and Susan Gibson.

A backlash to what critics call far-left policies imposed on the Central Bucks School District resulted in a Republican-controlled school board in 2021. Progressive activists immediately went on the warpath, making allegations of bullying and bigotry to discredit the Republican board.

The ACLU targeted the district, which filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) and activist groups. It was also the brunt of bad publicity as critics brought out protestors to fight alleged “book bans” and support transgender rights.

However, an exhaustive report by the prominent law firm Duane Morris found many of the allegations, including not acting against bullying of LGBTQ+ students, made by the critics turned out to be false.

Delaware Valley Journal’s previous reporting showed the controversial Policy 321, which was widely protested as a way to keep gay pride flags out of classrooms, actually kept all displays of political content, including Trump flags, out of classrooms unless they were part of the curriculum being taught. Teachers must also refrain from advocating their own political points of view to their students.

Image from “Gender Queer”

The school board also drew heat for a new policy that allows people to ask for school library books to be reviewed if they have gratuitous sex and violence or pornographic illustrations.

Mass, a Republican candidate, said, “If some of our opponents were somewhat more rational, we’d never have had the acrimony.”

He noted that his opponent, Smith, had reported the district to the DOE. The district subsequently paid $1 million in legal fees to defend itself.

Smith, who is running for her third term against Mass in Region 1, denied she filed a formal complaint against the district. Rather, she said, she emailed Education Secretary Miguel Cardona “and asked for his help.” At that point, she said the ACLU and other groups were threatening to sue the district. She claimed the Duane Morris lawyers never interviewed her. “I was doing my duty as an elected official,” said Smith.

If she is re-elected, along with others on the Democratic slate, “I would like to return the focus to academics and making positive changes for students. The last year or so, there’s been quite a lot of negative attention (to the district).”

“The board majority, their agenda, has not taken us in a positive direction,” said Smith. “I would like to return to fundamentals and away from the national culture war.”

As for allowing parents to review books, many of those books “have images that can’t be printed in the newspaper,” Mass said. He supports the steps the Republican majority board has taken to protect students.

Reportedly, two books, “Gender Queer” and “This Book is Gay,” have been reviewed and will be replaced with other books. “Gender Queer” has caused controversy in other Delaware Valley districts, where parents are dismayed at seeing graphic depictions of sexual acts.

“The majority of people, Democrat or Republican, would be shocked” to see what’s in these books, Mass said. And “This Book Is Gay” describes itself as a “how-to” book for having sex, including illustrations depicting explicit nudity and sexual activities.

Smith said part of the complaint by the ACLU was regarding the board’s library book policy, which she had no part in.

“Obviously, I’m happy to make a change there,’ said Smith.

“The elephant in the room is kids aren’t reading,” said Mass. “They’re not reading anything challenging.” That is an issue the district needs to focus on.

As for the primary, “It’s the warm-up for the general election,” he said. The slate of Republican candidates will “concentrate on getting our message out.”

Martino said, “I am honored and excited to be the Republican candidate for Central Bucks School Board. When campaigning, I enjoy talking to many of my fellow citizens and making new friends in our community. It is also clear that I have to set the record straight with many of my fellow neighbors.”

Rick Haring, her opponent in Region 6, did not respond to the DVJournal’s request for an interview.

His website states that if elected, he will  “fight  “to prevent book bans on material with literary merit” and sup” ort LGBTQ+ students.

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