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PA Military Charter School Proposed at Valley Forge Military Academy & College

Robert Mensch, a Republican who recently retired from the state Senate where he represented parts of Montgomery, Bucks, and Berks Counties, is throwing his weight behind a new charter school.

The Pennsylvania Military Charter School will be based at Valley Forge Military Academy and College.

Mensch, an alumnus who went on to serve with the Army Engineers in the Reserves, said the new K to 12 charter school will be completely separate from VFMAC. It will rent facilities.

The new charter and VFMAC officials are currently hammering out an agreement, said Joshua Johnson, de facto chairman of the charter school’s board.

However, both the Radnor Township School Board and the Tredyffrin/Easttown School Board would need to approve the charter school, since the VFMA property lies within the boundaries of both districts.

“That’s a sticky wicket,” said Mensch, who joined the charter school’s board. “No school district wants a charter school.”

And while districts complain about charter schools taking money from public schools, Mensch said that is not the case. The public schools receive the money first and disperse it if their students attend the charter. With both the Radnor and Tredyffrin/Easttown vying to be the top school district in the state each year, they are unlikely to lose many students to a charter.

“It’s minimal,” said Mensch. “We’re talking one percent, maybe less, of the total operating costs.”

“I think we need to give parents and students options,” said Mensch.

Johnson, a former Army Green Beret who served 32 years and retired in 2020 as a sergeant major, completed multiple tours of duty overseas. A Carlisle resident, he is currently a leadership consultant. He says he believes there is a great need for a school emphasizing leadership.

“Our goal for the Pennsylvania Military Charter School is to provide an alternative to traditional education based on the foundation of the U.S. military that focuses on the leadership development of the students. We want to make the great leaders of tomorrow.”

Eventually, there could be about 975 students at the charter.

“If we can get people graduating high school understanding the basic tenants of leadership, and they’re promoting these roles, I think they will have a leg up on anyone else,” he said. “I’m excited to do it because it’s leadership-based and military-based.”

While the new charter would not be part of the VFMAC, it will be its neighbor, said Johnson.

“It’s good to know your neighbor and find those common interests and see where and when we can be mutually supporting,” Johnson said. “But it is two separate organizations.”

VFM is a private institution, with tuition of $39,000 for boarding students, and $24,000 for those who commute. Charter schools are taxpayer-funded

In his final year in office, Mensch sponsored a bill signed by Gov. Tom Wolf that allotted unused federal ROTC funds to VFMA for scholarships.

“It will lead to an early commissioning program,” said Mensch, who has fond memories of his days at VFMC, where he played saxophone and clarinet in the band.

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Radnor Parents File Police Report Over ‘Gender Queer’ in High School Library

On Sunday, Mike Lake, along with the support of some other Radnor Township School District parents, filed a police report about the controversial book “Gender Queer,” which is available in Radnor High School’s library.

As reported last spring, “Gender Queer” is a “graphic biography of a young female who wants to be male but must figure out how to incorporate her female body into that fantasy.”

Parents throughout the Delaware Valley region have objected to these age-inappropriate books in schools. Fenicia Redman, a Malvern mom, has been at the forefront of this issue and has given her testimony before the Pennsylvania State Senate floor, as well as filing a lawsuit against the Great Valley School District.

Radnor is not the only school district that has issued this book. Central Bucks, Downingtown, Great Valley, and West Chester Area school districts are among others in the DelVal region to have these books available in their taxpayer-funded school libraries.

“Porn is porn, child porn is child porn, regardless of whether it is a picture, cartoon, or anime. A minor is a minor regardless of their sexual identity,” said Lake, who has two daughters attend Radnor. “The commonwealth has laws defining child pornography, and there are Federal laws prohibiting the distribution to minors. The librarian knows my daughter from before high school and knows she is not an 18-year-old freshman.”

This issue has been trending for a while, as many Radnor parents expressed their outrage about inappropriate books in a school board meeting last year.

Mike Lake uses the intercom to summon an officer, while other parents look on.

In response to this backlash, RTSD created a small group for these controversial books in question. While “Gender Queer” was under review, the decision was split.  Superintendent Ken Batchelor cast the deciding vote to keep it.

While this was a last resort option for going to the police station to file this complaint, Lake knew that being accompanied by other parents would help send a message on the seriousness of this issue.

“I knew this situation had to be addressed because it’s our children, not their children,” Lake said. “One of the reasons we came to Radnor was because of the quality education, and to have this sexually explicit content available to our kids in the school library is unacceptable.”

Another parent in attendance who has children who graduated from Radnor but wants to help address the situation is Amanda Castilleja. While her son graduated in 2018 and her daughter in 2020, Castilleja has seen a drastic change in what the school district now allows to be exposed to its students.

“Since 2005, I’ve had my kids attend this school district, and it has been horrible what has transpired since then,” Castilleja said. “We’ve been clear that we don’t want to ban books, but we want to ban those that contain sexually explicit content and make sure our voices are heard.”

Asked to comment by DVJournal, RTSD spokeswoman Theji Brennan said, “The Radnor Township School District welcomes and values parent engagement in conversations regarding programs, policies and procedures.  If parents have any concerns about materials, they should reach out to their child’s teacher or principal.   Policy 144.1 in our district policy manual provides guidance on the selection of library resources and a procedure for citizens to request a reconsideration of library materials.”

This filed complaint will now go to Radnor’s lieutenant’s office as they, along with other detectives in the department will investigate it.

“It’s vital that we continue to be aggressive and keep pressing on this issue until we see changes made,” Lake said.

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Jury Finds Radnor Township School District Retaliated Against African American Principal

What does it take to win a lawsuit against one of the wealthiest school districts in the state?

A jury agreed that Radnor Township School District had retaliated against Esther Purnell when it fired her in 2019. Purnell, the former Radnor Middle School principal, said she feels vindicated.

Earlier this year, an all-White jury found district officials had retaliated against the Black principal after she complained that someone in authority was discriminating against her. Purnell said she is just now recovering from her termination and the stress of the lawsuit and trial in federal court and finally felt able to speak to the Delaware Valley Journal.

“We survived,” said Purnell. “We are grateful, and are moving forward as a family.”

The Radnor Township School District “is so rich, they’re so powerful, they’re so intimidating,” she said. “They’re always the number one or number two school district (academically) in the state.”

“People always said to me, ‘How in the world can you be working at a predominately White district?’ And I was the first female African American principal. I’m sure I’m the last.”

Purnell was hired by the district in 2002 as an emotional support teacher, and then promoted to assistant principal and finally principal at RMS. When she was principal, the middle school was recognized as a Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education.

After Purnell complained to Superintendent Kenneth Batchelor on Sept. 6 and 7, 2019 about her supervisor, administrator Maureen McQuiggan, she suddenly she began to get negative reports to human resources after years with a spotless record.

“Mrs. Purnell had over 16 years of employment with RTSD and no disciplinary history before her complaint,” said her lawyer Chris DelGaizo. “RTSD brought eight different disciplinary actions against Mrs. Purnell after her complaint, to support termination.

“On November 27, 2018, Mrs. Purnell was suspended indefinitely. She never returned to work. She was terminated vis-a-vis a vote by the (school) board.”

The jury awarded Purnell $874,000 on May 10 after deliberating for 10 hours, said DelGaizo. Part of that amount was $250,000 for emotional damages, which was not reduced.

However, after he found that she had not sought similar employment, Judge Joshua D. Wolson reduced the wage loss damages, and the total awarded to Purnell was $362,279. Under Title VII, only a judge can award wage loss damages, he said.

“Attorney fees, costs, and pre-judgment interest were all paid separate from the award, by RTSD,” DelGaizo said. “The jury found RTSD retaliated against Mrs. Purnell for having complained of discrimination.”

While Purnell is pleased with the outcome, she said, “You can never repay me for the disparagement or the embarrassment. They terminated a 35-year career. I’m glad my mom was deceased. This would have pushed her over the edge.”

Despite the jury’s verdict, the district denied that it discriminates or retaliates.

“This litigation was long ago concluded. As a matter of policy and practice – and in every facet of our educational organization – we stand firmly against discrimination, bias, and retaliation,” said Theji Brennan, a spokesperson for Radnor Township School District.

Purnell said she relied on her faith in God, her church, and her family to get her through the litigation, which took much longer than she expected it would. She also began an educational and personal consulting business, Salty Oasis.

Purnell also sought counseling to get her through the stress of being fired and then from the lawsuit.

“I am still glad that I pursued it,” she said.

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