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Parent Alleges Pennsbury Officials’ DEI Data is Wrong

After crunching the data, a Pennsbury School District parent showed the school board and administrators what he believed were unassailable facts proving the district’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) policies are not working.

Tim Daly, who has been thrown out of the school board meeting in the past and also won a First Amendment court case against the district, spoke at an Aug. 17 meeting while police officers guarded the room.

“I have been focused on getting you guys to fix the DEI program,” said Daly, a marketing executive who holds an MBA.

The district was fined $719,000 by the state for the last two years, and a professor was brought in to research the issues and get the district back on track. The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) found Pennsbury was found to have placed 71 percent more boys than girls in special education and suspended 210 percent more Black students than pupils in other ethnic groups. Also, many more Asian students were enrolled in advanced placement courses than members of other ethnic groups.

“Your emails show Dr. (Cherrissa) Gibson and Miss (Regina) Rausch hid the data from (Superintendent) Tom Smith for six to eight weeks until the PDE demanded a meeting with Mr. Smith,” said Daly, who received numerous district emails through right-to-know requests. Gibson is the HR director and runs the DEI program. Rausch is the director of special education.

Daly, of Lower Makefield, looked at the charts that Edward Fergus Ph.D., the Rutgers professor, and his team that was hired by the district to comply with PDE penalties and realized something was amiss. The Fergus team will be paid $359,000 over three years.

He asked the district for the raw data and analyzed it once he obtained it.

“Dr. Smith’s staff manipulated and changed the ethnicity status of all the students and turned kids of mixed race with one Black parent to Black. And Latinos that were Black turned to Black. And then you found that the Asian kids were making the mixed-race kids look like they behaved too (well), so you moved that, too. I caught that,” Daly told the board.

“This is what’s posted at PDE,” said Daly. “So, you guys delivered fraudulent data to Dr. Fergus. And Dr. Smith acknowledged the error and said, ‘Mr. Daly, I’m going to fix it.’ And from April to June, the back-and-forth delays went on and on,” Daly said.

He asked for the raw data, and officials stalled. When he finally received it, “it was all false again.” After threatening to complain to PDE, Daly said, “Magically, there were the numbers.”

Daly said he began to look into this topic because of his daughter.

“My daughter told me back in February there is rampant discrimination against children of color in our school district,” said Daly. “And that White boys get away with sexually assaulting girls in the hallways on a daily basis, and if a Black boy did it, basically, he’d be in suspension.”

“So, I just couldn’t believe it; I couldn’t believe what my daughter was saying, so I asked for the numbers,” Daly said. “So, after $1.3 million in expenditures, we have seen a 7.8 percent reduction in disciplinary incidents. But when we dig into the numbers, what we find out is that it’s driven by a 14.9 percent reduction in White student discipline, while at the same time, people of color students have an increase in their disciplinary incidents by 3.6 percent.”

“And where the numbers come in is that we had a modest, stagnant decline on Black students of 1.9 percent, a modest decline of 2.3 on mixed race, but a 9 percent increase against Hispanics and 5 percent against Asians,” said Daly.

“Now, diversity is important to me,” said Daly, recounting a training program he took at a previous employer. “I want this diversity program to be saved. Based on the numbers, the issue here tonight is that your programming is wrong.”

He suggested the district form a committee to come up with a true diversity program rather than “racial retribution” and “anti-racist professional development training.”

In an email to the board and shared with DVJournal, Daly said, “Results from Pennsbury show a failure after five years and over $1.3 million in investment to improve anything.”

He added, “But what it shows is that Dr. Gibson deployed radical programming that didn’t have any foundational proof that it would work outside questionable research produced in our colleges that is ridden with errors by academic research hucksters who receive huge grants to produce pre-defined research results that grantor desires to be created.”

During the meeting, Smith noted that the state required the district to “address our disproportionality in special education.” He said Pennsbury’s classification rate for students of color is 25 percent.

Pennsbury spokeswoman Jennifer Neill said, “Mr. Daly conducted his own analysis of the data, which is different from how the district analyzes our data. Averages of data across an entire school district can vary based on who is included in the count, what time of year the count is taken, and how data points are defined. Addressing disproportionality and implementing a Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) is a multi-year process. Disproportionality is an intractable and universal problem in American schools that takes years of sustained, systematic effort to address.”

Karen Downer, president of the Bucks County NAACP, spoke in favor of the DEI program.

“Diversity in America is here to stay,” said Downer. “And I appreciate your work recognizing and incorporating it in your thought process as you plan your curriculum.”

“The Children First report submitted in 2021 reported that suburban school districts are becoming increasingly diverse, yet the educational paradigm has not kept pace with this change. Additionally, Pennsylvania ranks fifteenth in the nation in providing overall access to educational access to students, and it ranks at the bottom—47th in the country—in gaps between Black and Brown students and White students.”

The education system focuses on the student’s performance “as an indicator of their ability,” she said, “rather than a system that considers how its practices work to impact the performance of minority students.”

Neill also listed five meetings since December where the district asked the police to provide security.

“We consistently have district security in place at school board action meetings and other district and school events. It is also not unusual to have a police presence at meetings or other district and school events,” Neill said.

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Proposed Valley Forge Classical Academy Charter Faces Opposition in West Chester Area School District

Most people who spoke at the West Chester Area School Board hearing Wednesday were against allowing a new charter school to open in the district.

The board is considering the application of Valley Forge Classical Academy Charter School, which proponents hope to open in the fall of 2024.

Jenifer MacFarland, the charter’s board president, gave a presentation. If approved, the school would use a curriculum from Hillsdale College, emphasizing classic literature, Singapore Math, Latin, and phonics. The history program would be Hillsdale’s 1776 curriculum, which teaches both good and bad American history, MacFarland said during her presentation. Teachers would use the Socratic method.

Students would also learn the values of honesty, integrity, perseverance, justice, friendship, moderation, responsibility, self-governance, and service.

MacFarland projects an enrollment of 675 students to begin, with 25 students per class. That would increase to 975 after five years. The first year the school would serve kindergarten through eighth grade, adding a year each year afterward until 12 grade, with the first graduating class in 2029.

She said West Chester Area spends $25,000 per pupil as of the 2023-24 school year budget. The Valley Forge would spend $14,883 per regular education pupil. So, the district would save $11,000 per student.

She said some 70 schools nationwide are using the Hillsdale College curriculum. And Hillsdale trainers would train the teachers.

Sandra Schaal of the West Chester NAACP said her organization has “great concerns” about VFCAC. It objected to the 1776 curriculum as “Euro-centric” and “emphasizing American exceptionalism.” The elementary school literature is mostly by White authors and talks about the experiences of White children, she said. “The same is true of the art and music curriculum.”

“For White children, this would deprive them of the broadening of perspective that comes from hearing stories that reflect a variety of backgrounds and experiences. And for the many children in the West Chester Area School District who come from non-Western or non-White backgrounds, the curriculum will provide few examples that reflect themselves or their experiences,” she said.

She noted students would bring brown bag lunches, which poor children might not be able to supply, and required to have “traditional” hairstyles. The NAACP recommended against approval, she said.

Several speakers said they believed the school would discriminate against LGBTQ students. Others said they thought the school would teach Christianity, which MacFarland had explicitly stated that it would not.

“I am really shocked at the lack of a schoolwide library,” one woman said. “A limited use of technology. I also have major concerns over the viewpoints that are put forth through the Hillsdale College curriculum. It really does not allow our students to develop and promote their critical thinking skills.”

She was also concerned about the history curriculum.

MacFarland said each classroom would have a library of books the teachers chose. Students would have limited amounts of time with computers, she said.

Other speakers were concerned about the charter’s financial plan.

“As we say in business, hope is never a good strategy,” one man said.

Resident Mike Winterrode, one of the few speakers who supported the charter school, said he was pleased that it would offer Singapore Math, which “actually teaches students” necessary math skills. Students in Singapore, Japan, and other Asian countries are first in the world in math skills, while West Chester Area students scored only 75.2 percent on the recent Keystone Exams, he said.

Ken Flanagan said parents and students need choices. He noted the charter would save the district more than $5 million.

“This looks like a reasonable proposal,” said Flanagan. “Let the parents and the market decide.”

Asked to comment later, MacFarland said, “As I stated in my presentation, Valley Forge Classical Academy is required by law to accept all children, regardless of their background and race, just as the traditional public schools are required to do so. We will meet the needs of all of the children in our care, and, as our mission states, we will work ‘to inspire (all) students to think with judgment and communicate effectively in pursuit of academic excellence by providing a rigorous classics-based education.’”

DVJournal asked Sharon Ward, senior policy advisor for the Education Law Center, which monitors charter applications and charter schools, about Valley Forge Classical Academy. She had several concerns.

The Law Center assesses the cost to the host district of the charter, which reduces resources for other students in the district, to ensure that all students have access to the school and to determine if all applicable state and local laws are followed.

Ward was also concerned that Hillsdale is a Christian college and “the charter law prohibits establishment of a sectarian school.”

“In addition, the curriculum must be aligned with state standards to ensure that students are getting the education they need to graduate; it is not clear the Hillsdale curriculum meets this test,” said Ward. “We have concerns that the student code of conduct may violate state anti-discrimination laws and regulations, creating an unwelcoming environment for some students. Charters are public schools and must follow state and federal laws regarding nondiscrimination, and the rights of all students, including LGBTQ students, must be respected,” she said.

“There does not appear to be the requisite community support for the school to justify the school, as required under the charter school law,” Ward added.

MacFarland said, “VFCACS is neither a ‘religious’ school nor a ‘Christian’ school. The Christian religions are not taught, nor are they proselytized. All of the major religions are mentioned in history classes, as it is impossible to teach history without recognizing the part those religions have played.”

She said the school would teach the “universally accepted virtues” listed above.

And as for the critics, she said, they “do not have to send their children to the school. It is, after all, a choice. What right do they have in preventing other parents who want their child to attend this school, denying them a school choice option?”

The school board will hold a second meeting on the charter school but has yet to set a date. It is expected to vote on the charter school application by the end of August.


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