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HOGAN: Addressing the Pennridge Contract with Vermilion

I would like to candidly share my thoughts on the Pennridge contract with Vermilion.  This is a complex issue that requires thoughtful consideration, and I’ve grown concerned about the oversimplified portrayals of it in recent public discussion.

First and foremost, the goal of reviewing curriculum for bias and age-appropriateness is commendable.  Our primary focus should always be on providing a quality education, free from undue political or ideological influences.  The intent behind the Vermilion engagement aligns with this objective, and I support that intent.

My biggest struggle with Vermilion is that I believe Pennridge educators should be the primary architects of Pennridge curriculum. It seems obvious that optimal curriculum development begins and ends with the dedicated teachers who bring it to life in the classroom. Consequently, I have reservations about the extent of Vermilion’s direct involvement in crafting the final product. I want to clarify that my concern is not about who can legally write curriculum but rather about who should.  Contrary to the prevailing narrative, there is no Pennsylvania law, statute, code, or policy requiring any qualifications to write curriculum.  I just believe that the most productive approach is for district staff to lead the process.

In my opinion, the contract with Vermilion would not have been necessary if the Board’s curriculum directives had been carried out faithfully. The Board requested a specific curricular approach and because there was resistance to implementing that request, the Board was left with limited options. They had to either bring in an external consultant to represent their perspective or accept a curriculum that didn’t meet their standards.

In light of this, I pose a question: What should a School Board do when faced with strong opposition from their own staff regarding curriculum decisions? Should they simply accept a curriculum they are dissatisfied with?  If so, why elect School Directors at all?  Curriculum is among the most vital responsibilities of a School Board, and for good reason.

Looking ahead, I propose a balanced approach: 1) return the responsibility and ownership of curriculum writing to Pennridge staff, and 2) pursue targeted engagements with Vermilion for curriculum transparency and oversight.  By “targeted”, I mean dedicated contracts with clear terms of length, scope, and cost.  I prefer this approach over the current open-ended contract because I believe it gives the staff and community members more awareness of the Board’s vision and transparency into the process.

Despite the difficulties thus far, I have confidence in the ability of our Pennridge educators to professionally respect the Board’s directives. It’s my hope that we can achieve a more productive outcome by providing clarity that district staff are to architect the curriculum and the Board is to provide strategic direction ahead of approving it.  I believe that such clear roles can help foster a positive relationship that eventually renders the Vermilion engagement unnecessary.  On the other hand, there may be occasional instances of district staff obstructing the will of the Board, and those instances should be addressed on a case-by-case basis as a personnel matter.  Accountability is a critical element of leadership.

While I advocate for Pennridge educators to lead curriculum development, I acknowledge the value in Vermilion’s ability to review and document issues.  I am thankful that Vermilion has discovered content directly from Black Lives Matter and the Southern Poverty Law Center in our curriculum, as I believe those organizations have no place in Pennridge schools.  Additionally, Vermilion has flagged the teaching of gender ideology and institutional racism in our English curriculum, which opens the door to bias if such concepts are taught as accepted fact rather than the belief systems they are.

My recommendation to the current Board, district staff, and the community, is that we adopt a model where Vermilion reviews curriculum for bias and age-inappropriate content on a targeted basis, and its reviews are made publicly available for increased transparency.  The Board can utilize these reviews and any associated recommendations in its guidance to the district staff, who then oversee the actual development of curriculum content.

Ultimately, my aim is to provide a well-rounded education, focusing on the fundamentals while addressing concerns of bias or inappropriateness as they arise. Achieving this balance is vital for student success.

Thanks for hearing me out. This is an issue I’d like to hear more individual perspectives on, especially from candidates for school board, because I don’t think it’s quite so simple as blanket “for” or “against.”  If we are willing to offer criticism, we should also be willing to offer solutions.  This is my proposed solution; I’d love to hear yours.

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Mastriano’s New ‘Hard to Watch” Ad Targets Parents

Republican state Sen. Doug Mastriano is hoping a groundswell of angry parents will sweep him over the finish line.

Mastriano has seized on the issue of the sexualization of public school children and centered a new digital ad “Hard to Watch” on it, using events in schools in Montgomery and Chester Counties to illustrate the problem. He said it is a disturbing trend that his Democratic opponent Josh Shapiro supports.

The Mastriano video includes a Delaware Valley Journal article about obscene books in school libraries. And it mentions a lawsuit filed in court by Malvern mother Fenicia Redman to get those books removed from the Great Valley High School library. Her son is a student at that school.

Asked to comment about the ad, Redman told Delaware Valley Journal, “Sen. Mastriano and Pennsylvania parents see the extremist government actors who’ve held our children hostage and robbed them of their innocence. We’re coming to free our children!”

The ad also mentions a Montgomery County kindergarten class where children were required to read books about transsexuals because one student identified as their non-biological gender. That incident came from an anonymous tip to the senator’s office.


Republican political consultant Charlie O’Neill said, “The issues Mastriano is talking about in this ad are definitely issues he can win. But this ad is way too long to have an impact. Across the nation, parental rights have had a major impact on elections. If Mastriano is able to harness that energy in places like the Philadelphia suburbs it could be the boost he needs. However, the election is rapidly approaching, so his campaign better hope it’s not too late.”

For example, the parental rights issue was a big reason Republican Glenn Youngkin defeated Terry McAuliffe for governor of Virginia after the Democrat famously said, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”

The Shapiro campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

However, in a television interview Shapiro said that when Mastriano calls for restricting classroom content it contradicts his campaign pitch of freedom. “Walk as free people,” is one of Mastriano’s slogans.

“It’s not freedom when they tell our children what books they can read,” Shapiro said.

As Pennsylvania’s attorney general, Shapiro filed an amicus brief opposing Virginia’s moves to ban biological boys from using girls’ restrooms in schools.

Another parent who is a Mastriano supporter, Jamie Cohen Walker, said she supports him because he will keep the schools open. Children have been harmed by mandatory school closures, losing out on learning and becoming lonely and isolated.

“We knew that keeping kids out of school would harm them, so we fought, and we fought extremely hard because the Democratic politicians and their allies, the teachers union, made us their enemy,” Walker said.

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GIORDANO: Examining the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Legacy

This year as we celebrate the life and legacy of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr,, the analysis of his message has morphed into the battle over Critical Race Theory and how American history should be taught in public schools. WWKD, What Would King Do, has been the focal point of much commentary as we look at his speeches and crusades.

I’ve noticed several articles by local students and other commentators pushing back at what they see as the “whitewashing” of his tactics and his persona. It seems to center around arguments that conservatives have created a false construction of King to fight against affirmative action and teaching history in a way that fairly shows the warts of our past and current systemic issues along racial lines.

I think conservatives have to be careful not to overextend in making the case that Dr. King would not line up with the divisive message of Ibram Kendi and Nikole Hannah-Jones. Yet the conservative embrace of Dr. King has a lot of validity and speaks to the case that America has evolved in an incredibly positive way on racial equality and fairness. Conservatives can concede that many people did not fully embrace the vision of Dr. King when he was alive, but over the course of time, it has become the legal and moral centerpiece of our country.

This evolution is the key narrative that is disputed by those who are introducing variants of Critical Race Theory into our area schools. They maintain that if he were alive today, Dr. King would support the notion that America was still a de facto racist society. Isha Chitira, a Lower Moreland High School student, writing recently in the Bucks County Courier Post said, “In reality, King is far more than what we learn in school. Beyond being the face of the civil rights movement, King was staunchly anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist. And while he certainly believed in peace, he also thought that civil unrest was sometimes necessary to bring about change.”

Renn Miller, leader of the Camden Charter School, echoes Chitira writing in The Philadelphia Inquirer by stating, “Children may be taught the words of Dr. King to champion colorblindness, but not the current-day circumstances that render America unwilling to confront matters of race with a concrete policy like voting rights legislation, which liberals can’t deliver on.”

That is the stance President Joe Biden took last week in Georgia when he essentially said that if you oppose him on voting procedures, you are on the same side as Bull Connor, Jefferson Davis, and George Wallace. I don’t believe that Martin Luther King would endorse that sort of nonsense.

So, I think it is a good idea to explore the complexity of the agenda of Martin Luther King. However, the essence of the gospel of King comes back to creating a colorblind society and the rhetoric of Biden and those who don’t want schools to chart the progress America has made toward this goal must be rejected.

I share the outrage of parents across the country who have spoken out at school board meetings about the distorted history that was being taught to their kids. Of course, there were some people fueled by a racial animus that won’t allow them to acknowledge the warts of our past. However, there are people whose ideology will not allow them to see America advancing every day. They throw charges of racism around routinely. It is fine to want to accelerate the pace. It’s wrong to deny it is happening.