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BARNHART: For Central Bucks, Age Appropriate Standards Are Not a Book Ban

Sadly, the Central Bucks School District’s library policy continues to be mischaracterized by many as a “book ban” that discriminates against LGBTQ+ authors and people of color. Likewise, a handful of media outlets continue to publish articles that propagate the same harmful and misinformed narrative, further dividing the community and villainizing the school board majority.

The reason behind these false allegations is puzzling, as the policy is entirely neutral regarding sexual orientation and gender identity issues and treats explicit content equally regardless of whether the sexually explicit depictions happen to be between straight, gay, or transgender persons.

The board and superintendent have tried to set the record straight several times, but it doesn’t seem to correct the deceptive rhetoric. Board President Dana Hunter and Supt. Abe Lucabaugh clearly stated that the intention of the library policy is to “prioritize materials that support and enrich curriculum and students’ personal interests and learning” and to provide standards for age-appropriate materials.

The policy also states, “district libraries must comply with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) as specified in 47 U.S.C. §254(h)(5), including technology protection measures, and all state and federal laws relating to the prohibition on pornographic and other harmful materials for minors.”

Seems reasonable for our libraries to abide by the law, right?

It is interesting that a book containing graphic sexual content is seen as appropriate for a school library. Yet, if you post images from that very same book on Facebook, your account gets locked for “violation of Facebook’s community guidelines.” That happened to a Central Bucks parent.

To provide some history, before the last school board election, parents discovered numerous sexually explicit books in Central Bucks schools. But they found they had no recourse. The library policy had been archived. It was clear that Central Bucks needed a new one. The new policy resurrected a book challenge process, providing parents with the option to challenge books they deemed inappropriate for students.

Shannon Harris, a concerned Central Bucks parent, recently explained that “more than 60 challenge requests were submitted to the district to date. The administrative regulations allow for 60 days to review the books being challenged.” Harris also stated all 60-plus books being challenged were due to sexually explicit content. Harris explained the book challenges would be reviewed by committees of Central Bucks staff members, who will read the challenged books and present their findings within 60 days.

This process is anything but a book ban. It is the best of both worlds. It provides a balance between upholding parental rights and trusting in the professionalism of an educated staff to weigh in on the decision-making. It seems measured and cautious. It gives parents a voice and provides enough time for school staff to form an opinion.

Parents across the district remain grateful that the school board majority honored their campaign promise to defend and uphold parental rights. They listened to concerned parents about the lack of standards regarding sexually graphic content in elementary and secondary libraries, and thankfully, the school board majority is doing something about it.”

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WALKER: Emails Show Central Bucks COVID Closures Work of Teachers’ Union

During the summer of 2020, I was told by numerous people that the PSEA had absolutely no influence over the decision on whether to open schools in Bucks County for the start of the 2020/2021 school year. Two years later and several thousand emails obtained via the Right-to-Know requests, I have learned that was a lie. I have also realized that the people who kept schools closed were either scared of COVID or scared of the PSEA.

That is just the beginning of the story I will tell about why it was so hard to get children back into school in our area. Keep in mind Bucks County had more kids attend in-person education than surrounding counties, thanks to our health director and the parents and board directors who fought to make it happen.

Central Bucks School District is the largest suburban school district in Pennsylvania. Up until July 17, 2020, former Supt. Dr. John Kopicki had been telling parents that school would open for a full five days per week. On July 17 he tried to change the law regarding how children are educated in Pennsylvania. Without board approval, he made the unilateral decision to switch the entire district of 18,000 students to “hybrid” education.

In announcing his decision, Kopicki lied to parents about what the state guidelines actually were.  Then he had district employees incorrectly measure desks from edge to edge rather than from center to center, which is what county health director Dr. David Damsker advocated that would have allowed schools to open normally.

Because of Kopicki, kids could only attend school two days per week. Secondary students weren’t even allowed to eat lunch in school.

Now we know that he kept kids out of school because of pressure from PSEA Mideastern Regional President Bill Senavaitis. Instead of preparing his classrooms for the upcoming school year, Senavaitis went on an unprecedented assault against Damsker, who was giving parents hope that children could have a relatively normal school year.

Senavaitis spent his time writing op-eds bashing our health department and asking Bucks County citizens to tell a board-certified public health doctor to change his health guidance in order to align with what the PSEA wanted–not what was best for children.

From emails, we learned he attacked Bucks County Health Director Damsker with a flurry of personal attacks so repulsive that Bucks County Commissioner Bob Harvie chided him for it. Later, he went as far as calling parents “jerks” in his PSEA newsletter. On August 6, 2020, he got the PSEA state president to send a letter to Bucks County commissioners pressuring them to force Damsker to change his guidance so that kids could be kept out of school. But Damsker never changed his guidance.

Bill Senavaitis left his position as president of the PSEA Mideastern Region when the truth came out. But now that time has passed the PSEA feels it’s safe to promote him again so that he can be in the same position when the next crisis occurs. Is this the type of leadership the PSEA wants to represent its organization? Is this the type of organization politicians want endorsing them?

Now, two years later, we know Damsker was correct about learning loss, distancing, and treating COVID like the flu. Senavaitis was wrong about everything concerning COVID. His op-ed titled “David Damsker’s remarks about 3-foot social distancing in schools are harmful,” is a personal and professional humiliation for him. We need to ask why he is back in the leadership role in the PSEA.

The PSEA under Senavaitis’ leadership advocated for thousands of children to be kept from school—catering to the unions’ agenda, not the children’s. That speaks volumes about the PSEA and should make every citizen and especially parents wonder what type of organization is influencing our district administrators, our school board, and our kids. All the emails and documents backing up my opinions can be found  here.

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In Face of Protests, Central Bucks Bans Explicit Sexual Materials From Elementary, Middle Schools

The Central Bucks School Board voted 6-3 Tuesday night to enact a new policy of reviewing school books for inappropriate sexual content. The policy was widely debated for weeks.

Protesters, including the ACLU and Education Law Center, opposed the restrictions on library materials that would keep books with “visual depictions of sexual acts” and “written descriptions of sexual acts” out of elementary and middle schools.

Superintendent Abram Lucabaugh, an advocate of the policy, explained guidelines will now be developed to implement the policy and that the district previously had no policy for reviewing library materials.

In a letter to parents from Lucabaugh and Board President Dana Hunter last week, they said the policy has been “mischaracterized.”

“A major mischaracterization of the proposed library policy is that it’s a book ban. That is unequivocally untrue. The policy is intended to prioritize materials that support and enrich the curriculum and/or student’s personal interests and learning.”

“The administration, not the school board, came to us and said, ‘We need a process,” said Hunter. “And so we are giving them a policy to create a process that we will all be made aware of.”

Opponents dismissed the explanation, arguing that any restriction on children’s access to books is problematic.

“As PFLAGers,  we support policies that lead to honest, accurate, and inclusive education to help every child learn and thrive,” said Rachel Fitzpatrick, co-leader of PFLAG Bucks County. “Removing the resources that empower our children to learn and ask questions removes a critical function of education. Let’s give schools and libraries more books, about more topics and people. Let’s empower kids to learn and ask questions.” She urged people to vote, educate, and “lead with love.”

Another opponent called the policy “evil and abhorrent.”

Parent Pam Masciotro of Warrington appeared taken aback by the opposition.

“It’s disturbing to me that some of you are fighting so hard for their children to be exposed to some of this material. An earlier speaker said our library coordinator, Melissa Burger, chose books without political or personal bias. That’s not true. She has previously denied books written by Candace Owens, Justice Antonin Scalia, Ben Shapiro, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, the list goes on. Are we seeing a pattern here? Yes. They’re all conservative authors… And speaking of majorities, despite the turnout of people opposing the library policy, please know most CBSD parents are appreciative of you all looking out for their children and protecting them.”

She also decried board members and opponents of the policy who had said derogatory things about the district on social media. “For people who preach ‘hate has no home here,’ it sure does get nasty online,” she said.

Her comments drew angry remarks and boos from some other audience members.

Another Warrington mother who noted that one of her children is LGBT, said “sexually explicit material has no place in schools. It happens that some books in question are about LGBT kids. That fact does not make the books unacceptable for school libraries.” Instead, it is ‘graphic’ pictures and explicit descriptions,” she said. She said it was the graphic content of the book “Gender Queer,” and not the transgender character — that make it “inappropriate to have in a school library. If it were art depicting a heterosexual couple engaging in oral sex it should also be excluded,” she said.

“This is not a ban, this is not censorship. It’s common sense.”

According to the new policy passed Tuesday night, “The District recognizes there exists a vast array of materials with rich educational content. It is the District’s objective to choose material that provides such rich educational content appropriate to students in the District over material that may provide similar content but with elements that are inappropriate or unnecessary for minors in a school setting.”

The policy also notes parents are free outside the school setting to choose whatever materials they want for their children, no matter how graphic.

Parent Paul Martino blamed the media for the brouhaha that swept through the district over the library book policy.

“The way that the press has completely obfuscated the real issue here is a disgrace. How many parents actually want pornographic — yes, pornographic — materials in their elementary school libraries?”

Elana Fishbein of Lower Merion, founder of the national parents-rights group No Left Turn in Education, issued a statement “applaud[ing] the Central Bucks School District for a good faith effort to create a healthy, common sense policy for selecting books for their libraries. They include parents on the committee that makes the recommendations.

“The district recognizes that there are boundaries regarding sexualized content that is ‘inappropriate and unnecessary for minors in school.’ Unfortunately, the ACLU, the Library Association, and the LGBTQ community know no such boundaries. They apparently feel that a good education includes a healthy dose of pornography,” she said.

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