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Chester County Judge Orders Five West Chester School Board Members Removed

In a stunning move, Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas Judge William Mahon ordered the removal of all five Democrats on the West Chester Area School Board on Tuesday in a dispute over the district’s mandatory mask policy.

Mahon wrote his decision was a “procedural result” of the school district attorneys’ failure to comply with a March 15 court order instructing them to respond to a removal petition filed by upset mother Beth Ann Rosica, who has children attending school in the district.

Because of that, West Chester Area Board President Sue Tiernan and board members Joyce Chester, Karen Herman, Kate Shaw, and Daryl Durnell — all supporters of increasingly unpopular mask mandates — are now out of jobs. Meanwhile, the district’s legal team is looking to address the procedural gaffe on the back end.

It is unclear whether Mahon will entertain their arguments as to why the district did not follow the deadline order. The parties now have seven days to provide to the judge a list of names of five replacements, according to the order.

However, school district attorneys filed a motion for reconsideration, arguing the deadline for a response was actually April 4, WHYY reported. The motion asks the court to vacate the order and reinstate the board members while allowing district attorneys until April 4 to file a written response to the petition.

The judge’s initial ruling is a stunning move considering that Rosica, who has no formal legal training, faced long odds of getting the board members removed under the Pennsylvania Public School Code for favoring masking policies amid the global coronavirus pandemic.

She and another mother, Shannon Grady, mobilized parents in other districts to take similar action against school leaders. They said in their petitions mask policies caused students “permanent and irreparable harm” by “fabricating, feigning or intentionally exaggerating or including a medical symptom or disease which results in a potentially harmful medical evaluation or treatment.”

“I was kinda crying and happy and laughing,” said Grady, who is awaiting the outcome of a petition calling for the removal of Downingtown board President LeeAnn Wisdom, Vice President Caryn Ghrayeb, and board members Jane Bertone, Joyce Houghton and Audrey Blust. “I’ve never been in court before, and that’s why it’s so funny. So many parents reached out to attorneys, and none of them took this route. It just shows what perseverance can do. There are ways for the people to have justice. This could change the landscape.”

Rosica called the decision a “pleasant surprise.”

“It’s very gratifying to have the judge rule in our favor,” she said. “It’s been a long two years of feeling like we’re not heard by our school board. This was a way to hold them accountable for the decisions that they’ve made.”

The judge scheduled a hearing for 9:30 a.m. Friday to hear the reconsideration motion. Rosica said she is prepared to move forward with presenting her case if the judge decides to give the district another chance.

“We feel we have a valid legal argument,” she said. A provision in the code allows residents to push for removal of board members who “refuse or neglect to perform any duties.”

The mothers were emboldened by a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling in December that said Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration had no legal authority to require masks in schools and child care centers. West Chester continued to impose the mandate even after the ruling declaring the state’s policy unconstitutional.

The justices did not touch upon whether districts could enact such policies. Instead, they focused on the Department of Health’s limited scope of authority to protect public health so long as it did not “act by whim or fiat in all matters concerning disease.”

In a message to parents Tuesday night, West Chester Superintendent Bob Sokolowski said attorneys for the district were “in the process of preparing a substantive response” to the mothers’ claims in the petition.

He did not say why the district’s legal team didn’t meet the initial deadline to file a response to the removal petition.

“While we do not have all of the answers at this time, please be assured that the West Chester Area School District and I remain deeply committed to the mission of educating and inspiring the best in our students,” Sokolowsi said. “As many of you who have emailed or spoken with me over this past year know, I strive to connect with each and every member of our community to answer questions and address concerns in a timely manner.”

Mahon’s decision comes after a federal court judge in another case in the Perkiomen Valley School District in Montgomery County issued an injunction keeping the district’s masking policy in effect after school leaders relaxed it to optional in January.

Parents complained the school’s decision violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) because immunocompromised children were more susceptible to contracting and dying from the respiratory disease that has claimed millions worldwide.

The judge in that case, Wendy Beetlestone, wrote that district leaders faced “excruciating choices” trying to keep students and staff safe from the virus while ensuring everyone has equal learning access. However, by March 14, Beetlestone had reversed her decision and ruled that Perkiomen Valley students and staff no longer had to wear masks.

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Resident Files Petition to Recall Great Valley School Board Members

Seven members of the Great Valley School District could be driven from office if irate residents have their way.

The seven are named in a petition in the Chester County Court of Common Pleas last Thursday, filed by a local taxpayer angered over the district’s mandatory mask policy. The district was served Tuesday, said Kerry Puia, the lead plaintiff.

Puia, whose own children are grown, told the Delaware Valley Journal Tuesday that she is striking a blow for freedom. And, she believes, thousands of others share her sentiments.

“I got involved because of the fact that people’s freedoms were being taken away,” said Puia.  Puia noted that the two school board members not named in the recall petition were absent last July when the board voted to impose mask mandates.

“Basically, we started our own petition because of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling, which is cited in the petition, that what the governor and school boards were doing was unconstitutional.”

The school boards “are not listening to parents or taxpayers,” she said. The Paoli resident and others tried to talk with the board before taking this step, but nobody listened to them, she said.

“People are being completely shut out,” she said. “Their voices aren’t being heard…And so it’s gotten to this point.”

The board is “not allowing parents a choice,” she said. And even though the mask mandate is being lifted next week, the district could just as easily re-impose it.

“We’re the voice for thousands of people,” said Puia, who noted that people in some other districts, including West Chester and Downingtown, have also filed petitions to recall school board members.

The petition accuses GVSB members David Barratt, Rachel Gallegos, Wendy Litzke, Jennifer Armstrong, Stephen Dittmann, Samantha Jouin, and Neha Mehta of failing to perform their duties.

“The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled the order to force EUA (emergency use authorization) experimental medical devices to be worn by healthy children (masking) by the Secretary of Health was so illegal, it should have never occurred,” the petition said. “The Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the PA Commonwealth Court decision on December 10, 2021. The ruling has deemed the forced masking order by the Secretary of Health “void ab initio” and unenforceable.”

The petition further stated, “Municipal government agencies may not create new rules or regulations’ out of whole cloth’, only the Pennsylvania legislature has that authority.

“There is no state of emergency in Pennsylvania allowing for rules to be subverted, and the highest courts in our state ruled, twice, that the Pennsylvania Health Department may not force mask healthy children. ‘The Board’ has failed to follow proper procedure for exception requests to their illegal policies.”

A spokeswoman for the Great Valley School District did not respond to a request for comment.

The court has not set a hearing date for the petition.


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