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Updated: Judge Rules in Favor of CBSD Fair Votes Redistricting Map

A Montgomery County judge has ruled in favor of CBSD Fair Votes in a case regarding the voting redistricting map over the map approved by the school board and superintendent.

The case was sent to Montgomery County after all the Bucks County judges recused themselves.

The district, the fourth largest in the state, will now be divided into three regions instead of nine, and each district will have three representatives. Critics say the plan, backed by progressive Democrats, will make it more difficult for Republicans to win elections.

The reapportionment process, done every 10 years to conform to U.S. Census results, ensures the nine districts represent roughly the same number of people. While the school board voted to approve a new map drawn by the solicitor and superintendent in November, CBSD Fair Votes challenged that map in court.

Despite using the same name, CBSD Fair Votes  is not part of a national organization, Fair Votes, backed by progressive donors that advocates election policies backed by many on the left, said Tracy Suits, a former board member who spearheaded the group. Former President Barack Obama and Eric Holder, his attorney general, began a nationwide push to redistrict in 2016.

In her ruling, Senior Judge Cheryl L. Austin found both plans complied with the law, but she ruled in favor of CBSD Fair Votes instead of upholding the district’s plan. She found that “the Fair Votes plan is superior in its maintenance of political subdivision integrity because it splits fewer municipalities than the New Board Plan. The Fair Votes plan splits four municipalities. The New Board Plan splits six municipalities; one municipality (Warrington) is split three ways.”

“In maintaining subdivision integrity, the Fair Votes Plan also keeps communities together and preserves communities of interest. An advantage of having fewer regions in the school district will mean that school district residents have an opportunity to vote for three of the nine school district directors instead of one. This will create a greater chance that residents will be electing board members that reflect their personal values. Additionally, a three-region system increases the voters’ ability to vote for at least one board member from every four years to every two years.”

“Today, four days before elections in high-profile races for Central Bucks School Board, a judge from Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas elected as a Democrat reversed the tradition of voters in Central Bucks being able to elect a representative that lives in their district,” said Pat Poprik, chair of the Bucks County Republican Committee. “This tradition dates to the formation of this school district. Instead, this Judge decided to do away with nine school board districts based on geography and population. Instead, this judge opted to accept the recommendation of a group spearheaded by liberal and progressive special interest groups without sufficient justification to disenfranchise certain areas of Central Bucks. Unfortunately, this is yet another example of the politicization of our school board by liberal and progressive groups.”

Chalfont parent Jamie Walker was upset by the ruling.

“I don’t understand how a Montgomery County judge can make decisions for Bucks County. Why did all the Bucks County judges abandon the people of Bucks County?   She went against what our elected school board voted for in our district. It’s purely a political move that has now set a precedent for any group to change voting regions in their district. Shame on everyone involved.”

It was unclear whether the district will appeal. Neither School Board President Dana Hunter nor Vice President Leigh Vasblom, who was on the voting region committee, responded to DVJournal.  District Solicitor Jeffery Garton was unavailable to comment on Friday.

Lawyer Brendon Flynn, who represented Fair Votes, did not respond to requests for comment.

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Appeals Court Clears the Way for Closure or Repurposing of Delaware County Memorial Hospital

A Pennsylvania appellate court on Wednesday removed a Common Pleas order that barred the closure or repurposing of Delaware County Memorial Hospital.

The appeals panel found the contract for the hospital’s sale and testimony from a county official did not preclude the sale or show that any immediate harm would occur.

The Foundation for Delaware County had sought an emergency injunction to suspend Crozer Health’s planned closure of Delaware County Memorial Hospital. Rather than the county, the foundation filed the litigation because it was the legal party to the hospital system’s sale.

The foundation is the county’s largest charitable foundation, and it was created from the sale of the Crozer-Keystone Health System to Prospect Medical Holdings in 2016. Part of that agreement required Prospect to maintain acute care services at its four hospitals for 10 years or until June 30, 2026, the foundation said.

“We are very disappointed in the decision. Our primary concern has always been the health and well-being of the residents of eastern Delaware County,” said Foundation President Frances M. Sheehan in reaction to the appellate court ruling.” We believe there has already been significant repercussions for the people in the hospital’s surrounding area. We are regrouping and deciding on our next steps.”

Delaware County officials declined to comment.

“We are pleased by the court’s ruling and look forward to the conversion of Delaware County Memorial Hospital to a Behavioral Health Hospital to meet the needs of the community,” said Lori Bookbinder, a spokesperson for Crozer Health.

Previously, Delaware County Council Chair Monica Taylor, Ph.D., said, “Closing Delaware County Memorial would be catastrophic for our residents that have depended on its services for generations. And over 300 high-quality jobs would be lost due to this hastily announced plan, developed without input from the county. It is an unacceptable course of action by Prospect Crozer, and the county remains committed to ensuring that the public health needs of our residents are a priority over the financial considerations of a for-profit corporation.”

According to published reports, Crozer Health, which owns four hospitals in Delaware County, laid off some 215 employees in March. It is said to be struggling to pay its bills.

Last September, Crozer Health announced plans to convert Delaware County Memorial Hospital to a behavioral health institution. Previously, county council members said they were concerned about that plan because it could limit access to health care in the county’s eastern section.


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Most in Delaware Valley Give Mask Mandates a Thumbs Down

Plane loads of people rejoiced when they learned a Trump-appointed federal judge struck down the mask mandate on planes, trains, and buses Monday.

But the Biden administration’s Department of Justice plans to appeal that ruling.

“Once again, the Biden Administration defaults to government overreach and fighting for forced mandates, rather than trusting Americans to make smart decisions on their own, or actually trying to lead people in a certain direction,” said Christian Nascimento, a Republican running for Congress in Montgomery County. “I was actually on a flight when the announcement came over that the airline would no longer enforce the mask mandate. Passengers broke into applause.”

At Philadelphia’s airport, people must wear masks inside, as required by the city’s latest mask mandate, but they can remove them once they are on their plane.

Heather Redfern, airport public affairs manager, said, “While our airline partners are no longer requiring masks on planes, a current City of Philadelphia Department of Health mandate requires everyone to wear a face mask in public indoor settings in the city…Enforcement includes signage and employees reminding passengers and staff of the city’s mandate. The airport has free masks available for all that need them.”

If the Biden administration is counting on support from Pennsylvania’s elected officials, it will be disappointed.

Sen. Pat Toomey’s (R-Pa.) spokeswoman said he was “part of a bipartisan majority who voted to strike this mask mandate down.”

“We are at a place where those who want to be vaccinated can be readily vaccinated,” said Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Chester/Berks). “We are at a place where people have educated themselves on the benefits of masking. And we are at a place where our schools, businesses, offices, and services are open. Because we have done the work over the past two years to successfully allocate federal resources to provide things like therapeutics, tests, vaccines, boosters, and masks to our community, I’m not supportive of a mask mandate at this time.”

She also said she is “continuing to push for bipartisan COVID funding” and plans to keep wearing her mask and getting tested.

Guy Ciarrocchi, one of the Republicans running in the May 17 primary to oppose Houlahan in November, said, “Biden’s decision to appeal this ruling is outrageous. Mandating masks in April 2022 defies science and common sense. Moreover, it shows how out-of-touch he is. I call on Congresswoman Houlahan to join with me in demanding that Biden drop this appeal.  If they won’t stop this madness, I will be part of the next Republican Congress that will.”

“I think it is complete nonsense,” said Ron Vogel, another Republican in the 6th District primary. “The only good thing that has happened in this country since Joe Biden has been in charge is that the mask mandate was lifted.  It was lifted because President Donald Trump appointed a judge with the courage to do it.  My opponent, Chrissy Houlahan, is anti-science. She supports all of the draconian mandates and lockdowns. Earlier this week, she held a town hall that ignored the science. She specifically picked a venue that required everyone to show a vaccine card in order to enter.”

Former Ambassador Carla Sands, a Republican running for the U.S. Senate, cited a 2020 Danish study that showed no statistical difference between wearing and not wearing masks.

“I am opposed to any mandates. I think they’re unconstitutional. I think people need to read and educate themselves and make the best decision for themselves,” Sands said during a Delaware Valley Journal podcast.

“Dave is vehemently opposed to government vaccine and mask mandates and supports the rights of individuals to make decisions that best suit their unique situation. What we’re seeing in Philadelphia and elsewhere to reinstate mask mandates shows that science has been replaced by woke virtue signaling,” said David McCormick campaign spokesperson Jess Szymanski. The Republican is also running for the U.S. Senate.

“Biden promised to ‘follow the science’ back in September. But his policies smell of virtue-signaling rather than pragmatic policy-making,” said GOP Senate candidate Kathy Barnette. “We have children wearing masks on busses but not in school, families wearing them to board the plane but not during the flight, people putting on and taking off masks as they cross jurisdictions, and the government coercing private companies into maintaining mandates which have no documented relationship to health concerns.

“The bottom line is that these mandates are a means of control, not responsible health policy.  The judge is right to reject them, and the administration just can’t bear the idea that they don’t get to tell us what to do,” she said.

And Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz, who is running for the Senate, told Greg Kelly on Newsmax TV Wednesday surgical masks should be changed every few hours and worn correctly to be effective.

“I don’t think (masks) make a difference on planes…50 percent of the air on a plane comes from outside the plane. There is no COVID at 35,000 feet, and the rest of the air is purified so cleanly it’s better than being at home,” said Oz.

David Galluch, a Republican running to oust Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Delaware/Philadelphia), said, “Vaccines and natural immunity provide highly significant protection against COVID for the vast majority of Americans. The recent ruling doesn’t preclude people from wearing a mask. It simply gives Americans a choice. Those who have underlying conditions, are at risk, or are concerned about contracting COVID should continue to do what they feel is best for their health and safety after consulting a medical professional. But I believe it’s time Americans have a choice when it comes to masking.”

Several DelVal residents posted their thoughts on Facebook.

Walter Plotnick of Elkins Park said, “Personally, being sandwiched shoulder to shoulder with often sneezing, coughing members of the general public unmasked in recycled air is a deal-breaker for me.”

But, others disagreed.

Cheltenham resident Dawn Pitts Tollett Johnston said, “I fly a lot and am thrilled that the mask mandate will be lifted. The air is not stale. It’s filtered and recirculated continuously. So yes, I am perfectly comfortable with flying. I refuse to live my life in fear.”

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for Greyhound said masks are now optional on buses except when crossing into Canada or Mexico or disembarking in a local municipality that requires them.

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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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Judge Issues Nuanced Ruling in Delco Ballot Case, Keeps Jurisdiction

A request by two Delaware County Republican County Council candidates to keep problematic mail-in ballots separated from the voting poll was rejected as moot by a judge Monday evening. But her nuanced ruling gave some relief to the plaintiffs, in that she agreed to hold a hearing on the issues and kept jurisdiction should additional problems arise.

The dispute centers on ballots that were mailed out to the wrong people or had another voter’s information on the return envelope. Officials also discovered that a vendor mailed some 5,500 ballots after the expected date of Oct. 19, making it unlikely that all of those ballots would be received by the Board of Elections by the Nov. 2 general election.

Council candidates Joe Lombardo and Frank Agovino asked the court to intervene and keep the ballots from being treated like other vote-by-mail ballots. In her ruling, Common Pleas Court Judge Kelly Eckel held that James Allen, director of the Board of Elections, had already taken steps to segregate those ballots so judicial supervision was not needed.

However, she ruled in favor of the petitioners, finding that having two watchers present, one from each party, would ensure that a fair ballot-handling process will be used. Therefore, court-ordered supervision is not needed.

Of the 708 ballots mailed by third-party vendor ElectionIQ of Akron, Ohio, 660 were found to have errors. Allen took steps to make sure they would be handled separately, the judge wrote. In response to the issues,  the county Board of Elections ordered 19,000 provisional ballots in case voters need to cast those at polling locations.

ElectionIQ officials did not respond to requests for comment on Monday.

Also, ballots that arrive by Nov. 5 will be counted, as long as they are postmarked by Nov. 2, Eckel ruled.  Eckel also kept jurisdiction over any disputes that may erupt during the election.

Both sides were pleased by her ruling.

Michael Puppio, who represents Lombardo and Agovino, said he was “very pleased with the outcome. The judge kept jurisdiction and agreed that the problems existed. I am baffled as to why the county would not stand beside (us) and why they were not more forthcoming. Transparency is the best disinfectant.

The motion was granted in part and denied in part: granted in that a hearing was held; granted in that judge acknowledged the errors of the third-party vendor; granted in that jurisdiction was maintained; granted to the extent that the election board said in court the measures they were taking to sequester ballots and it is now memorialized in the court order; granted in that two additional watchers are permitted to canvas the problematic mail-in ballots.

“(And she) denied in that a judicial overseer was not appointed; denied as to the argument that all 5,500 of the late ballots should be quarantined; denied as to the argument of disparate treatment of voters,” Puppio said.

“One very interesting item that was not really discussed but the judge included it in her finding was an extension of time for three days for ballots to arrive.”

Delaware County Solicitor Bill Martin issued this statement: “As anticipated by the county, Judge Eckel confirmed that the petition filed by the Republican candidates was moot, as the matters complained of had been appropriately remedied by the County Board of Elections. The judge confirmed the role of “watchers” to monitor the count of ballots the County had already agreed to sequester. Finally, the judge extended to 8:00 p.m. on November 5, 2021, the period where the county can tabulate ballots, only as the deadline relates to the small number of ballots that had been re-mailed, or mailed late, as long as the ballots are postmarked on or before Election Day. As to the petitioners’ proposal to take the election out of control of the Board of Elections, and rest such control in the courts, the judge recognized such request as unneeded, since the county was already following the law.

“It was unfortunate that Delaware County Republicans expended significant county resources, and distracted staff from preparing for the election, with this unneeded ‘emergency’ weekend legal process. It is of a recent pattern where the party seeks to drive elections into the courts, instead of seeking to fairly compete at the ballot box,” Martin said.

A spokeswoman for Delaware County emphasized that all votes will be counted.

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