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Central Bucks School Board Republicans Resign, Alleging Unfair Treatment

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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Two of Three Republicans Resign From Central Bucks School Board Tuesday

When the Democratic majority was elected to the Central Bucks School Board last year, it was with the assurance that they would bring more cooperation and less division to the board.

But that hope was shattered Tuesday night when two of three Republicans on the board—Lisa Sciscio and Debra Cannon–resigned.

The move came after the majority ended the meeting rather than allow Sciscio to speak.

“I was trying to approach the situation in a more charitable manner toward my colleagues,” said Sciscio. “So, there is one particular issue I have grave concerns about. And I asked for more information about this issue because I’m concerned not just myself but every member of  this board with not being given information.”

She pointed to a request she’d made to the new solicitor, David Conn.

“What I have learned since then is pretty mind-blowing,” Sciscio said. “As we heard tonight, also in public comment, one of the problems that reflects Mr. Conn as the solicitor of this district. On Jan. 28, I requested information on a legal matter, the separation agreement of (former superintendent) Dr. Lucabaugh. I abstained from last month’s vote, allowing Mr. Conn to take any legal action necessary regarding Dr. Lucabaugh, and boy, I’m glad I did. For merely asking for information and documentation on the matter…For my request, I was accused by Mr. Conn of colluding with the attorney representing Dr. Lucabaugh.”

Lucabaugh resigned after the November election brought a Democrat majority to the Central Bucks School Board. The previous, Republican-controlled board had faced a backlash over policies, including allowing parents to question whether certain books were age-appropriate. The board also instructed teachers and staff not to use alternative names and gender identities for students who requested it unless they had parental permission. Other issues included not allowing political displays, whether Trump signs or LGBTQ flags, in common areas of the schools.

“That certainly didn’t dissuade me from seeking this information,” said Sciscio. “Because I’m already used to our solicitor making egregiously false accusations against me and some other members of the board, especially in the press.

“Perhaps to elaborate on what this has been like is to simply share my emails,” she said. She started to read an email to Conn asking him to prepare a confidential memorandum about Lucabaugh’s resignation for board members.

“Instead, you use Karen (Smith) as your mouthpiece to claim that you require authorization from the board,” she said, quoting her email to Conn. “As a school board solicitor, you know that’s a flat-out lie.” She demanded all documentation in writing because of the “disparaging and inappropriate comments you’ve made about certain board members, including me, to the press.”

She added that perhaps Conn had not seen the email from Lucabaugh outlining alleged harassment from Smith.

Smith broke in to say Sciscio’s remarks were not appropriate.

“It’s come to my attention that on Nov. 29, you entered your appearance in a Bucks County election legal matter on behalf of Karen Smith, Heather Reynolds, and Dana Foley personally. Quite the coincidence that Karen notified me, Jim (Pepper) and Debra (Cannon) via email before anyone was sworn in that the ‘transitional board’ decided to hire you as a solicitor…Don’t you think it would have been appropriate to put the board and the public on notice of this conflict of interest? Don’t you think this could be construed as a quid pro quo? Don’t you think it would be prudent to advise your firm of their potential liability?”

She said the board majority was settling “personal political scores” before they voted to end the meeting.

Smith, the board president, Conn, and acting Superintendent James Scanlon did not respond to requests for comments. Sciscio and Cannon also did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.

“This is just so heartbreaking,” said Michaela Schultz, responding on social media.

Also on social media, Dave Vessichelli said, “Democrats fixed the map so they will have control of the CB school board forever. Sad, but it will only get worse. If I have young kids, I would definitely get them out of the district.”

And Mike Jeffreys said, “Not that it matters what I think, but I’m 100 percent convinced the only way to see real change and accountability is through school choice.”

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