Why should a government entity comply with the Sunshine Act?

Lawyer Chadwick Schnee thinks it’s important that municipalities and school districts follow the letter of the law.

He shot off an email to Pennsbury solicitor Erin Aronson after he learned the Pennsbury School District, which has faced state complaints filed against it for equity violations, failed to post a supporting report to an online meeting agenda regarding a report on ‘equity.’

Schnee wrote, “The Sunshine Act has long since required agencies to “provide a reasonable opportunity at each … meeting … for residents … to comment on matters of concern, official action or deliberation which are or may be before the board or council prior to taking official action.”

“My understanding is that an agenda was posted under Superintendent Reports on the subject of ‘Update on District Areas of Focus – Equity;’ however, the original agenda did not include the actual report. With less than 24 hours of notice before the Feb. 15, 2024 meeting, however, the district posted the actual report.

“I am of the belief that the decision to provide the report with less than 24 hours of public notice violated both the text and spirit of the Sunshine Act, and my client, Mr. Tim Daly, and at least one other individual, are seriously considering filing a civil or criminal complaint concerning this Sunshine Act matter,” Schnee wrote to Aronson.

Daly said he did not attend the meeting since the data had not been posted in time for him to review it. Jennifer Neill, a spokeswoman for Pennsbury, did not respond to requests for comment.

In an email to the board, Daly accused Superintendent Thomas Smith of “willfully” withholding the new equity report to keep the public in the dark so concerned residents couldn’t review it ahead of time and discuss it at the meeting.

Daly, a parent and frequent district critic, has previously been thrown out of a school board meeting. Daly and other plaintiffs settled a First Amendment court case against the district for $300.000.

He told DVJournal, “The updates to Pennsylvania Sunshine Laws that were rolled out in September 2021 were aimed to stop this very type of misconduct by Pennsbury. Due to the scrutiny they have faced around the DEI (diversity, equity, inclusion) efforts and being caught multiple times falsifying DEI data, they clearly wanted to slip this by the community without challenge. Complaints will be filed to hold the district and school board accountable for their violation of the law. We will seek for them to present the data again while providing proper agenda notice.”

District officials presented their latest report that covered last year’s equity data. It showed they had improved in that fewer Black students were at risk of being identified as having intellectual disabilities, so they will no longer face a fine this year. The one area where the district performed worse was economically disadvantaged students, going from a 1.29 “risk ratio” to a 1.98 risk ratio.

In out-of-school suspension (K-12), fewer Black students were suspended in 2022 than in 2023. The risk ratio went from 4.08 to 3.63. However, Asian students went from a 0.33 percent risk to a 0.51 percent risk.

They are in their second year of warning for Black students with an IEP, but they went from 3.36 to 2.69 for risk.

Of the 9,700 students, 28 percent are “of color,” 31 percent are poor, 23 percent are in special education, and there are 37 different languages other than English spoken in students’ homes. The most common of those foreign tongues are Spanish, Russian, Ukrainian, and Polish.

Edward Fergus Ed.D., the consultant the district hired for $369,000 over three years to help with its equity program, praised the staff for their willingness to improve and realize there was “a system issue, not a kid issue.”

During public comment, Andrew Dell called diversity, equity and inclusion “worthless.”

“There’s no evidence that kids of color are going to do better if there’s more teachers of color,” said Dell. “You guys are sectioning up people by race and categories and pitting people against each other. I think it’s disgusting. I don’t believe those numbers for a second. What you are doing is wrong, and kids are getting dumber by the minute.”

In real life, “there are not equal outcomes for everybody. That is not how the world works, and everyone is different,” he added.

Robert Abrams called the equity program a waste of $400,000 in taxpayer’s money.

However, a woman praised the board for its efforts and told them, “Happy Black History Month.”

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