Two Republican members of the Central Bucks School Board resigned abruptly last week, citing their treatment by the new Democratic majority, leaving only one Republican remaining on the board.

Central Bucks, the third largest school district in the state, flipped from Republican to Democratic last November, after a campaign by various left-of-center groups opposing policy changes made by the GOP majority. Among them, keeping political signs out of classrooms and sexually-explicit books like “Gender Queer” out of school libraries.

The two Republicans, Debra Cannon and Lisa Sciscio, say Democratic Board President Karen Smith excluded them from a Jan. 30 retreat and board communications. They also believe actions taken by the new board solicitor, David Conn, expose them to personal legal liability. They made these claims in scathing resignation letters.

Conn’s appointment to the solicitor’s post appears to be at the center of the conflict.

Conn is unapologetic about his partisan politics. His social media feed identifies him as a “progressive solicitor,” and has featured his advocacy for Democratic and leftwing politics.

Cannon wrote that the three minority school board members received an email on November 29, 2023, announcing that the majority would appoint Conn as the new solicitor before the Democratic majority was sworn in. It was the same day that Conn filed with the court that he would be representing Karen Smith, Heather Reynolds, and Dana Foley in a vote recount case, which Cannon and Sciscio allege created a conflict of interest.

Smith, Reynolds, and Foley did not abstain in the vote to appoint Conn,  nor did Conn disclose that he represented them.

Also on December 28 of last year, Conn entered his appearance for the district in a legal case where Conn’s wife is a witness in that case, another alleged conflict of interest, according to Cannon’s letter.

“I expressed my concerns about the items which the newly-installed board majority added to the agenda without public notice,” Sciscio wrote about the Dec. 4 board meeting. “These agenda items did not fall within any of the exceptions to the Sunshine Act. The appointment of Mr. Conn as solicitor to the district (without a contract in sight) was one such item.”

Smith told Cannon that she communicates with the board majority by text messages, Signal app, and phone calls, a practice that not only excludes the minority Republicans but is not transparent and, in the case of phone calls, leaves no written record.

Cannon also objected to alleged violations of the Sunshine Act that could leave the district and board open to litigation, such as changing items on agendas without proper notice.

On Jan. 30, the Democratic majority board members held a retreat without the Republican minority. That day, Cannon emailed Smith expressing concerns about a retreat without the board minority present and confirming Conn would be there. She asked whether this was an unannounced executive session.

On Feb. 6, Sciscio, Cannon and the third Republican board member, James Pepper, a lawyer, sent Conn, acting Superintendent James Scanlon and the board majority an email outlining their concerns “that Conn is placing the district, its taxpayers, and the board (as a whole and personally) in legal jeopardy.”

Conn allegedly referenced an alleged Title IX violation “in an attempted blackmail communication,” said Cannon. But Scanlon later emailed Sciscio and Cannon to say there was no Title IX complaint.

On Feb. 13, the board and Scanlon censored  Cannon and Sciscio, abruptly ending the meeting before they could finish speaking.

Scisicio said the board majority’s actions “were likely to jeopardize our qualified immunity and create a personal liability against each board director.”

“In fact, not only has this entire board been notified of imminent personal litigation related to this matter on at least three occasions that I’m aware of, stated plainly, the district, through Mr. Conn, has threatened to take personal legal action related to this matter on at least three occasions…against its own sitting school board directors, that is, at least the directors in the minority,” she said.

Sciscio added, “I have no choice but to protect myself and my family from people who operate with such impunity and seemingly act without care for their oaths of office.”

Smith responded with a statement from the board majority saying the board had not violated the Sunshine Act and there was “no evidence of a quid pro quo with Mr. Conn. A lawyer can previously have performed pro bono work for an individual before they become a client. Additionally, the district is the client here, not any individual board member.”

“These allegations are false,” Smith said. “During their tenure in the board majority, Mrs. Sciscio and Mrs. Cannon routinely withheld information from the board minority. They ignored legal warnings on their intended votes from the ACLU, Education Law Center, NAACP, American Library Association and other organizations. Their actions resulted in a federal investigation by the Office of Civil Rights and multiple lawsuits. Their actions caused these lawsuits they are now accusing us of mishandling.”

However, an investigation by the Duane Morris law firm released last year found that Smith had secretly written an email to the Department of Education complaining about the district and asking for help with policies that she disagreed with prior to the DOE opening an investigation.

Conn did not respond to a request for comment.

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