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Former School Board President No Show at Board Reorg Meeting

Disgraced Norristown Area School Board President Shae Ashe may have been re-elected in November, but he has no plans to return. Ashe, whose inappropriate social media messages to teen girls were first reported by Delaware Valley Journal, did appear at the board’s reorganization meeting Monday evening to say he will not be returning to his old job.

During the meeting, the board unanimously elected Phillip Daniels as its new president and Monica D’Antonio Ph.D. as vice president.  Daniels is a Principal Consultant with Axtria, specializing in life sciences analytics, machine learning, and data management. Daniels said he hopes to drive better parental engagement, improved science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) curriculum, and digital transformation projects that will enable strong career outcomes for students, according to the district website.

D’Antonio is an Associate Professor of English at Montgomery County Community College. She also serves on the West Norriton Human Relations Commission, runs a monthly book club at Norristown Library, and is a volunteer/mentor at Norristown’s Center for Culture, Art, Training and Education (CCATE).

Ashe, a Democrat, resigned from the board in October after Delaware Valley Journal published sexually suggestive messages on social media he sent to a 17-year-old high school girl while he served on the board.

After the November general election, Montgomery County Republican Committee Chairman Liz Havey said Ashe’s win was likely due to mail-in votes from voters who had not learned about the issues with him beforehand, which is a significant problem with early and mail-in voting.

“While Shae Ashe lost overwhelming at the polls, those who cast their vote by mail prior to this information coming to light were unable to change their vote,” said Havey. “This is a significant issue with mail-in voting and prohibits voters from being able to vote with all available information. Our hope is that Mr. Ashe will not accept the nomination and that the board appoints Lisa Licwinko-Engleman to the position, who was the next highest vote-getter receiving over 3,900 votes from Norristown Area residents.”

During the reorganization meeting, district solicitor Rudolph Clarke said that Ashe has until Dec. 17 to fill out the paperwork if he wants to take a seat on the board. If he does not. The board will appoint someone to the vacancy at its Jan. 10 meeting.

Although Ashe had resigned, it was only from his previous term. The voters then elected him to another four-year term, he said.

At the time of his resignation, Ashe denied any wrongdoing.  Ashe released this statement through his lawyer, Emmett Madden, “Over the last four years, I have truly enjoyed serving this community as a school board member. Together, we accomplished many things to be proud of. Our district is financially in better shape where a budget was passed with no tax increase for the first time in over a decade. We adopted a five year review of the district’s curriculum to ensure students in the community are being pushed to achieve the highest possible outcomes. We also increased our engagement with parents and community members to establish a positive rapport and improve perception of the district and public education. Although there is much more to be accomplished, the board and administration have made significant progress and our district is in great shape for the future,” he said.

“This year, I sought re-election to continue that progress and support public education. I am appreciative of voters and supporters that elected me to serve another 4-year term. Unfortunately, I will not take the oath of office and request that the NASD Board of School Directors fill the vacancy until voters can select a replacement in a special election.

“Since the election last month, I’ve been approached by several entities with opportunities to advance my professional career. These opportunities require a time commitment that would take away my ability to give the Norristown Area School District my full participation.  I am appreciative of the support and well wishes as I pursue my next endeavor. It has been an absolute pleasure serving this community,” Ashe said. “Unfortunately, I will not take the oath of office and request that the NASD Board of School Directors fill the vacancy until voters can select a replacement in a special election,” Ashe said.

Meanwhile, Buck Jones, the parent of a teenage daughter, said that he was “very” glad that Ashe did not come to the reorganization meeting.

“And I hope he stays away,” said Jones.


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Ashe Reelected Despite Withdrawal From Norristown Area School Board

Shae Ashe, the former president of the Norristown Area School Board who resigned two weeks before the Nov. 2 election after accusations that he sent sexually suggestive messages to a 17-year-old Norristown High School  student, won a seat on the school board on Nov. 2. And it appears mail-in ballots played a role in that victory.

Ashe, 30, a Democrat, came in fourth for the four seats, in the heavily Democratic district. Neither Ashe nor his lawyer responded to requests for comment, although when he withdrew from the board, Ashe asserted that he had not done anything wrong.

Shortly before his withdrawal, parents picketed the district demanding that Ashe step down and spoke out at a school board meeting.

“It’s crazy,” said Dana, the mother of the girl who received the sexting messages, about voters reelecting Ashe. “(It) makes me sick to my stomach.”

Under state election statutes, when candidates die or withdraw from most offices, it is up to the political party to replace them. However, Montgomery County Democratic Party Chairman Joe Foster said for school board members, the school board itself fills a vacancy.

“But the complication is that Shae won reelection,” said Foster. “So, presumably Shae will resign a second time, and again the board will replace him. The party hopes for a quick resolution to this issue.”

Montgomery County Republican Committee Chairman Liz Havey chalked up Ashe’s win to mail-in votes and noted it is one of the problems with permitting those ballots.

“While Shae Ashe lost overwhelming at the polls, those who cast their vote by mail prior to this information coming to light were unable to change their vote,” said Havey. “This is a significant issue with mail-in voting and prohibits voters from being able to vote with all available information. Our hope is that Mr. Ashe will not accept the nomination and that the board appoints Lisa Licwinko-Engleman to the position, who was the next highest vote-getter receiving over 3,900 votes from Norristown Area residents.

However, it is not that unusual that a name appears on the ballot and the person, for one reason or another, cannot serve.

“This is a situation that happens more often than you think,” said Robin Kolodny, chair of the political science department at Temple University. “Many times, it has to do with the death of a candidate after the ballot has gone to print. Obviously, withdrawal at the ‘wrong time’ is also a problem.”

In the meantime, The Washington Post recounts several instances where candidates won elections posthumously, including state Sen. James Rhoades (R-Alllentown) who had died in an automobile accident before the 2008 election.

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Angry Parents Demand Action from Norristown School Board in Wake of Sexting Allegations

Angry parents showing up at school board meetings is a common occurrence in the Delaware Valley these days. But Monday night’s meeting of the Norristown Area School Board was different.

Parents weren’t upset about curriculum or mask policies. They wanted to know why board president Shae Ashe still had his job in the wake of inappropriate social media posts to a 17-year-old female student.

“This young girl felt she had nowhere to go, no one to talk to, because he was so powerful,” said resident and parent Buck Jones. “Every student that’s in this school, if you didn’t address anything else, I thought you should have addressed that. Let every student know in your district that they can go somewhere.” Jones said it was time for an emergency session to remove Ashe from the school board.

“We need our kids to feel safe coming to our schools and right now parents feel uncomfortable sending their kids to school where Shae Ashe is a leader and can groom their kids. Shae works in a lot of places that have young kids, Montgomery County OIC, Norristown Project,” he said.

The scandal began when Delaware Valley Journal published screen captures of Ashe’s communications with the teen girl, including repeated requests that they meet and comments like, “If only you were 18.”  Ashe, who is married and a father, was suspended from his job in state Sen. Amanda Capelletti’s office after the story was published.

Rudolph Clarke, the district solicitor, said the board could not take action against an elected official.

“This board does not have that authority,” Clarke said. “What the district is doing, from the superintendent to all of the board members, is things they have been guided by legal counsel to do so they are in the best interests of the Norristown Area School District.”

Ashe was not in attendance Monday night.

“This situation is not business as usual and should not be treated as such,” said Jones. “As we listen to the solicitor explain about the taxes and the importance of it…we should have those same types of things with the Ashe situation. He should have told people what to do if you are affected.”

Lisa Licwinko-Engleman, a parent who is running for a seat on the school board, said that having Ashe remain on the school board means the district is “complicit” in his violation of its policies. They include a prohibition for adults “dating, courting or entering into or attempting to form a romantic relationship with any student enrolled in the district,” she said. Adults must also not accept requests to be students’ friends on social media, according to district rules.

“Mr. Rivera, as vice president, you need to step in, step up, and make Mr. Ashe step down,” she said.  “It is your job as elected officials to protect our children. If it had been any of your daughters on the receiving end of these messages, how would you feel? These girls’ lives have been changed and their innocence gone forever because of Mr. Ashe…We as parents and taxpayers demand Mr. Ashe step down immediately.”

Also, Licwinko-Engleman said Ashe voted to approve tutoring programs paid for by the district for students to attend programs at OIC, where his family members are employed, “which is a conflict of interest.” She told the board to freeze funds to OIC until an investigation is completed.

Her remarks were applauded.

NASD Superintendent Christopher Dormer read a statement after the residents spoke, saying officials were aware of the allegations against a board member.

“Though we are unable to publicly discuss any specific steps that are being taken, the district wishes to assure our community that we are in full compliance with any applicable laws, policies, and procedures related to such allegations being made against an elected official,” Dormer said. “The administration is in regular communication with the Montgomery County District Attorney’s office and is fully cooperating with their investigation into those allegations. As this matter is ongoing, we are unable to make any additional public comments at this time.”

Emmett Madden, a lawyer representing Ashe, issued a statement saying, “We have reason to believe these alleged messages are fraudulent and part of an improper effort to influence the upcoming election.  Just as the Montgomery County District Attorney’s office is not rushing to judgment, I urge that neither you nor the voters rush to judgement [sic].”

Maria Mancuso, executive director of the Women’s Center of Montgomery County, said she could not comment on the specific case but “as a community, we need to recognize and confront sexual violence and abuse.”

The school has an “obligation to protect the student. As an organization dedicated to eliminating domestic violence and all forms of abuse, the Women’s Center of Montgomery County offers education programs for students and staff within our school districts.  We encourage staff to become trained in recognizing signs of unhealthy relationships among students, and to interact in a healthy way with them as responsible adults” and the district will “use this as an opportunity to address relationships and implement programs offered by community-based resources.”

“And we want to be sure that Dana and her daughter and others similarly victimized feel supported and encouraged to reach out for services,” she said.

Norristown parent Anna DeSanto told the board she is concerned about her child’s safety and is upset the district’s leadership has remained silent.

“You can take a stance for these kids,” said DeSanto. “That’s what we put you here for.  The people in this room, your constituents, put you here to do a job for our children.”