WALKER: Misinformation, Media Bias Driving Dissention in Central Bucks
We have a great community. And in no small part that’s because of our Central Bucks School District.
Our students have a 99 percent graduation rate, enjoy nearly 300 extracurricular activities, create and star in incredible musicals, are accomplished artists, tradespeople, athletes, and scholars. And yet, over the last year and a half, many have observed our regional legacy media print biased stories from reporters that seem intent to discredit our current board.
Biased reporting and at times the spread of misinformation about our district is harmful to our entire community and its reputation. Harmful to the students, the graduates and the teachers and staff. Biased news is stoking anger that encourages citizens to believe incorrect and inappropriate charges. And at times hateful nonproductive rhetoric that further detracts from what should unite us all: Ensuring that our students are all supported toward a bright future.
Multiple examples were on display at and after the March 14 school board meeting. At the meeting’s opening, under the slogan “Community Pride Starts Here,” 25 CBSD students from our excellent MBIT program were appropriately honored as medalists in the nationally based Skills USA Competition. One student, Connor McGlinchy and his teammate, received more than $285,000 in scholarships and tools for their 1st place win. Instead of focusing on celebrating these students, a news piece in the Bucks County Courier Times about the meeting questioned whether the school board violated the Sunshine Act by granting space for the students and their parents to receive their accolades, thus taking time from other community members.
As the awarded students and their parents filtered out to be replaced by other interested community members ( thus proving the premise of the Courier Times article was ridiculous) the school board President Dana Hunter asked for civility as she revealed that several school board members had been the victims of threatening profane phone calls. She played one for the audience and it was shocking. By failing to report on the threats, the local news is preventing an opportunity for the community to understand how significant the anger and division have become.
Public comment during the meeting demonstrated that the public has been misinformed. The most disturbing example of this was the author of a letter to the board and administration written by a CBSD alumna and signed by 800 additional grads. The letter could be signed using a goggle form as many times as a person wanted to sign. One unverified person could sign fifty times. Even before this letter was read on March 14, several local media outlets had featured it, including the Philadelphia Inquirer and The Bucks County Courier Times. This letter was filled with misinformation that an already biased media chose to emphasize.
The alumni letter stated that the board “approved the strictest library book ban in the state, allowing a small handful of parents to challenge and remove from district libraries any book that they found objectionable.” This is patently false. Anyone interested in the topic should read policy 109.2 to discover that the policy is not a ban at all, nor does it allow parents to remove any books.
The policy serves as a process that allows for concerned parents to challenge books that contain explicit gratuitous sexual acts. While not a single book has thus far been removed, even if one is, it must be replaced with a book “of equal or better merit and which convey the same or similar educational purpose that may have led to the objected material being included in the library in the first place.” In other words, if a book was chosen to help students to identify with the author, or because of a theme representing a group of students, it must be replaced for these reasons. This negates the charge in the alumni letter that the policy is targeting books on LGBTQ themes.
The letter goes on to state that “Policy 321 bans teachers from discussing “partisan, political, or social policy matters” in schools and from displaying any symbols that might be considered political, including pride flags.” Again false as a perusal of policy 321 at the source demonstrates that teachers are not banned from discussing these matters or displaying symbols when those relate to the curriculum. While pride flags were included, so were all flags coming from any side of political and social policy issues.
How does this policy not ensure that every child be able to have real and full conversations regarding matters covered in the curriculum? In fact, classrooms free of political bias would fully allow the “marketplace of ideas that challenge students to grow and flourish their intellect” that the author of the alumni letter touted. If you, as a parent, do not feel comfortable for your child’s teacher to visibly lobby for either President Trump OR President Biden, then this policy is for you!
The alumni letter additionally charged a specific reason that a teacher had been placed on administrative leave. The district has stated repeatedly that that the circumstances of this teacher’s administrative leave are under investigation. It is inappropriate to ascribe rumors to reason, while a full investigation is pending.
The letter also stated that the school board members canceled sex education classes across the district rather than accommodating a non-binary student. In fact, the classes were not cancelled. They had been changed to online.
As CBSD students are taught to always check original source material. It is disappointing that the author and 800 students would not take the time to read and understand the above-mentioned policies and scenarios before writing and signing on to misinformation. Misinformation that has been and is damaging the reputation of our entire community and stoking anger that is leading to threats.
I implore this community to consider a variety of sources. We have worked too hard as a community of parents, students, teachers and staff to build an incredible district and reputation. We must not lose it to bias and misinformation.
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