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Pennsbury Accused of Violating Sunshine Act to Prevent Criticism of Equity Data

Why should a government entity comply with the Sunshine Act?

Lawyer Chadwick Schnee thinks it’s important that municipalities and school districts follow the letter of the law.

He shot off an email to Pennsbury solicitor Erin Aronson after he learned the Pennsbury School District, which has faced state complaints filed against it for equity violations, failed to post a supporting report to an online meeting agenda regarding a report on ‘equity.’

Schnee wrote, “The Sunshine Act has long since required agencies to “provide a reasonable opportunity at each … meeting … for residents … to comment on matters of concern, official action or deliberation which are or may be before the board or council prior to taking official action.”

“My understanding is that an agenda was posted under Superintendent Reports on the subject of ‘Update on District Areas of Focus – Equity;’ however, the original agenda did not include the actual report. With less than 24 hours of notice before the Feb. 15, 2024 meeting, however, the district posted the actual report.

“I am of the belief that the decision to provide the report with less than 24 hours of public notice violated both the text and spirit of the Sunshine Act, and my client, Mr. Tim Daly, and at least one other individual, are seriously considering filing a civil or criminal complaint concerning this Sunshine Act matter,” Schnee wrote to Aronson.

Daly said he did not attend the meeting since the data had not been posted in time for him to review it. Jennifer Neill, a spokeswoman for Pennsbury, did not respond to requests for comment.

In an email to the board, Daly accused Superintendent Thomas Smith of “willfully” withholding the new equity report to keep the public in the dark so concerned residents couldn’t review it ahead of time and discuss it at the meeting.

Daly, a parent and frequent district critic, has previously been thrown out of a school board meeting. Daly and other plaintiffs settled a First Amendment court case against the district for $300.000.

He told DVJournal, “The updates to Pennsylvania Sunshine Laws that were rolled out in September 2021 were aimed to stop this very type of misconduct by Pennsbury. Due to the scrutiny they have faced around the DEI (diversity, equity, inclusion) efforts and being caught multiple times falsifying DEI data, they clearly wanted to slip this by the community without challenge. Complaints will be filed to hold the district and school board accountable for their violation of the law. We will seek for them to present the data again while providing proper agenda notice.”

District officials presented their latest report that covered last year’s equity data. It showed they had improved in that fewer Black students were at risk of being identified as having intellectual disabilities, so they will no longer face a fine this year. The one area where the district performed worse was economically disadvantaged students, going from a 1.29 “risk ratio” to a 1.98 risk ratio.

In out-of-school suspension (K-12), fewer Black students were suspended in 2022 than in 2023. The risk ratio went from 4.08 to 3.63. However, Asian students went from a 0.33 percent risk to a 0.51 percent risk.

They are in their second year of warning for Black students with an IEP, but they went from 3.36 to 2.69 for risk.

Of the 9,700 students, 28 percent are “of color,” 31 percent are poor, 23 percent are in special education, and there are 37 different languages other than English spoken in students’ homes. The most common of those foreign tongues are Spanish, Russian, Ukrainian, and Polish.

Edward Fergus Ed.D., the consultant the district hired for $369,000 over three years to help with its equity program, praised the staff for their willingness to improve and realize there was “a system issue, not a kid issue.”

During public comment, Andrew Dell called diversity, equity and inclusion “worthless.”

“There’s no evidence that kids of color are going to do better if there’s more teachers of color,” said Dell. “You guys are sectioning up people by race and categories and pitting people against each other. I think it’s disgusting. I don’t believe those numbers for a second. What you are doing is wrong, and kids are getting dumber by the minute.”

In real life, “there are not equal outcomes for everybody. That is not how the world works, and everyone is different,” he added.

Robert Abrams called the equity program a waste of $400,000 in taxpayer’s money.

However, a woman praised the board for its efforts and told them, “Happy Black History Month.”

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POWELL: Did America Transform When We Were Busy Doing Something Else?

America has always had a debate on the separation of church and state. In recent years a new separation debate has formed, pitting public institutions against parental rights.

Perhaps the debate was first framed in 1996 when first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton’s book “It Takes a Village” was published. The Dallas Morning News described the book as “a textbook for caring.” An excerpt from Simon & Shuster reads, “Children are not rugged individualists. They depend on the adults they know and on thousands more who make decisions every day that affect their well-being.”

In 2021, the parental rights issue exploded onto the national scene in Virginia when Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe answered a question posed by his Republican opponent, Glenn Youngkin. 

McAuliffe, a former governor, said, “I’m not going to let parents come into schools and actually take books out and make their own decisions,” adding, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” The parental rights movement was launched.

Things got ugly fast as parents demanded answers and how race and gender were being addressed in the classroom. What was discovered was schools were using materials aligned with the basic tenets of critical race theory. An article in Education Week defined it this way, “The core idea is that race is a social construct, and that racism is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice but also something embedded in legal systems and policies.”

The Biden administration was all-in with its whole-of-government equity agenda.   In a stunning move, in response to parent protests at school board meetings, Attorney General Merrick Garland seemed to imply that protesters were domestic terrorists. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, wrote, “The Biden administration cannot silence parents for exercising their constitutional rights and treat them like terrorists simply for having concerns about what their children are being taught.”

The point is that by the time parental concerns focused and grew, an entire issue infrastructure had grown around the racial equity movement and metastasized throughout the culture.

The academic community was creating materials for classroom use. The College of William & Mary School of Education posted “What is Critical Race Theory? Resources for Educators” on its website. Rutgers University published, “Understanding Critical Race Theory and How to Incorporate its Principles in the Classroom.” Portland (Ore.) Community College posted “Critical Race Theory Tool Kit.” The Equity Institute had a complete pedagogy ready to download, including “Building Equity in Your Teaching Practice.”

The point being progressive, WOKE culture already controlled the language and messaging of the issue flying under the banner of “diversity, equity and inclusion.”

College admissions widely adopted a two-tier system for admissions. Prestigious high schools like Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Va., changed its policies to create equitable outcomes, abandoning meritocracy and arguably openly discriminating against Asian students.

Medical schools were not immune. Stanley Goldfarb, a retired nephrology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, worries that we are sacrificing quality in the name of diversity.  He points to the AMA’s three-year strategic plan that conflates racial justice with health equity, changing assessment criteria for first-year medical students to pass/fail, and more medical schools scraping the Medical College Admissions Test. 

Goldfarb has started a nonprofit group called Do No Harm and has written a book, “Take Two Aspirin and Call Me by My Pronouns,” which was favorably reviewed in the Wall Street Journal.

The corporate world is far down the path of adopting diversity, equity and inclusion policies. Forbes Magazine wrote that diversity, equity and inclusion have become a “mainstream buzzword in the corporate world.” It cites the rationale as “micro-aggressions, discrimination and violence is experienced on an ongoing basis, the need for a safe place to create, contribute, and thrive is vital.”

Marketplace reported in November 2022, “Diversity and inclusion manager has been the second-fastest-growing job title over the past five years, right behind vaccine specialist, according to LinkedIn.”

American parents assumed that the curriculum issues could be solved at the ballot box. They were wrong because equity policies are being integrated into our institutions and changing our culture.

On Oct. 31, 2008, then-senator Barack Obama proclaimed, “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.” As John Lennon said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”  

Our culture may have shifted without half the population knowing it.

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Delco’s $125k Diversity Officer Gives First Report to Council

Delaware County taxpayers are spending $125,000 to fund a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) officer for county government. But the county tells Delaware County Journal it doesn’t have the basic data to show it needs someone doing the job.

At its Dec. 7 meeting, Delaware County Council praised DEI officer Lauren Footman, who gave an impact report about what her department is doing for the county.

“In the last nine months, Delaware County has begun the long-overdue process of ensuring that every community has equal access to opportunity and that county services are being delivered in an equitable and accountable way,” said Footman. “I am excited about the progress that has already been made and our county’s collective commitment to the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion. We are on our way to making Delaware County a place where everyone can succeed.”

Elected county officials liked what they heard.

“Creating a more inclusive and equitable county is a priority of council, and we are pleased with the progress that the newly created diversity, equity, and inclusion office has accomplished in less than a year,” said Delaware County Council Chair Monica Taylor, Ph.D. “We have much more to do, of course, but this new impact report shows what can be done in a short amount of time and lays out an ambitious roadmap for moving forward.”

Commissioner Richard Womack, Jr. said, “It’s something that’s been long overdue and well-needed.”

“We want a workforce that looks like Delaware County,” said Commissioner Christine Reuther. “There’s a real joyfulness in embracing it and seeing it.”

But critics ask if a DEI officer really is “overdue?” Is there any evidence the Democratic-controlled county government is discriminating against racial or ethnic minorities or does not “look like Delaware County” as Reuther suggests?

Asked by DVJournal for the demographic composition of the county government workforce, spokesperson Adrienne Marofsky said she did not have that information. However, an analysis by reported the county workforce is 71 percent White and 56 percent are women. That was close to Census data that found 67 percent of Delaware County residents are White and 51 percent are female.

So, is the $125,000 being well-spent?

“The county continues to add new positions, increasing payroll faster than the epically high rate of inflation, not to mention the benefits rate is at 70 cents on the dollar. Ultimately, [federal] COVID funds will dry up and the taxpayer will be on the hook,” said Delco Republican Party Chairman Frank Agovino.

Since taking the job, Footman has conducted “listening tours” with stakeholders inside and outside of county government to “engage constituents” and raise awareness. She has also spent money hiring a contractor to design a logo. And she told the council part of the three-year plan is to spend more money to hire a project manager.

Also, community organizations in “underserved” areas will get county-funded “micro-grants.” Fifty applications for the grants have been received, Footman said.

Council Vice President Elaine Schaeffer said it is “hard to change culture, both internally and externally.”

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NASCIMENTO: Dumbing Down Education Hurts Kids and the Country

As Yogi Berra once said, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

Once again, across the country and here in the Delaware Valley, school aged children are being forced into virtual learning. And once again, it’s the very districts that can least afford to have their children outside of the classroom that are most impacted.

We know from experience that children do best when they are in the classroom; we also know from the COVID virtual experience that we all just lived through that there are many secondary impacts to children beyond being behind in learning. Many of our children are being unfairly burdened with mental, behavioral and health impacts due to prolonged time out of the classroom.

At the same time, school districts and local leaders across the country are deliberately pushing the “dumbing down” of America in the name of equity. From the principal in Minnesota that is eliminating failing grades, to the (thankfully) former mayor of NYC who unilaterally eliminated the city’s Gifted and Talented program, the very foundation of our education is under attack from those entrusted with its success. Just this week, I saw notice of the Methacton School District waiving midterms and finals for all classes this year – a dangerous trend.

In truth, all these actions hurt the very children that they propose to help. Pushing a child on to the next grade because we don’t give out “F”s is not “equitable.” It is, in fact, leaving them unprepared for the future challenges that they will face.

We’ve also previously seen the Attorney General of the United States, without documenting any specific threats, taking an unprecedented step to issue a memo likening parents attending school board meetings to domestic terrorists. All while a company founded and run by his son-in-law does work for various school districts across the country on the very topics that many of their parents are emotional about.

As a former school board president, I can speak from experience on how heated school board meetings can get when there is a topic that the community is passionate about, and no topics arouse passion more than those that affect people’s children. But parents must be made to be partners in the decisions that impact their children’s future.

Whether a child goes onto college, grad school, the military, or a trade, what they lean in primary school is foundational to their success, and to the success of our nation. Cheating them on an honest assessment on what and how they learn and cheating their parents out of their rightful and appropriate involvement, is cheating an entire country.

The Constitution is silent on education; it leaves these matters to the localities. However, when the federal government threatens and the local government abdicates its responsibilities, then Congress must act to ensure that future generations are educated properly. This can be done by passing legislation that calls for minimum standards in grading and curriculum in order to receive federal funding. Congress can also finally pass meaningful legislation to provide school choice to millions of families across the country.

From national security to economic prosperity, there is no greater challenge facing us today that the education of our children. As Jefferson has been quoted, “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.”


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HUTCHINS: Finding True Equality in the Classroom, What Is the Answer?

When navigating the present and charting the future, it is critical to be informed by the past. In this way, a racially just United States requires a deep examination of how centuries of racial inequities have propelled injustices in our nation’s economic, criminal justice, educational, and health care systems. However, those who viscerally advocate “Critical Race Theory” (CRT) – an inelegant term for a movement that declares that race is exclusively at the heart of all social interactions and structures – also risk overlooking the past when it comes to setting a path forward.

The civil rights movement was successful when it emphasized our commonalities as Americans; our common hopes, dreams, struggles, and destiny being tied together. In his “I Have a Dream” speech, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. rejected standing apart as a solution, saying, “We cannot walk alone.” This is what CRT proponents get wrong and what parents across the country are rejecting. We cannot teach our children to see themselves as defined and destined by race, that a trait is White or Black, that the American dream is only relevant for some.

I started my career as an advocate for civil rights by leading protests and taking an adversarial approach to address the injustices plaguing communities of color, particularly around policing. As I did this work, I began to engage with the law enforcement officers I was marching against. I came to learn of their perspectives, the difficulty in the jobs they do each day, that the world they wanted for their children was consistent with my own. And, I remembered the wisdom of the civil rights leaders who marched together across race, gender, age, and religion. Over the course of the past two decades, I began to speak more to our shared humanity; that there was no problem we could not solve by working in tandem. Taking this approach has changed hearts and built more bridges than I could have ever imagined possible.

As our nation wrestles with the continuing presence of systemic inequalities, educators in local communities are facing similar decisions. Yes, we must absolutely equip children with the knowledge of how racism created inequalities throughout history that still exist today. But an academic theory that was meant to be an analytical tool for sophisticated thinkers should not have its essence distilled into teaching tools or academic policy. Doing so has the potential to lead to teaching students damaging lessons, such as only seeing themselves through race, or counterproductive policy, such as canceling gifted and talented programs because not enough Black students are selected.

We must do better. When teaching children about how to understand that which might make them different, we also teach them what makes them the same. When we teach about the flaws of the founders, we also teach about their accomplishments. Rather than get rid of a test that has unequal results by race, we must implement a policy that enables all students to test to their potential.

The lesson we teach, even if unintended, cannot be that we are set apart, ashamed if white, or hopeless if of color. Parents across the country are rejecting this instruction at school board meetings and at the ballot box. We should take their lead and remember the lessons of our past even as we address its faults. Our responsibility is to equip our children to sit at tables of sisterhood and brotherhood, together.

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