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ROSICA: Back to Basics West Chester Candidates Advance to the General Election

Back to Basics West Chester endorsed five school director candidates, and based on the unofficial results of Tuesday’s primary, all candidates will advance to the general election in November. The candidates were cross-filed on both the Democratic and Republican ballots, and each candidate won the Republican nomination by a large margin.

The candidates include Nick Spangler and Bob Rafetto in Region 1, Amanda Greenberg and Peggy Schmitt in Region 2, and Alain Oliver in Region 3.

Back to Basics West Chester is a nonpartisan political action committee (PAC) founded by local parents committed to bringing balance to the West Chester Area School District board. The PAC does not endorse candidates based on their party affiliation. The five candidates were endorsed based on their diverse backgrounds, commitment to serving the community, alignment with the platform, and their balanced views on how to best approach the school district’s myriad issues.

One endorsed candidate, Peggy Schmitt, is a registered libertarian. She could not vote for herself in the primary because Pennsylvania only allows registered Republicans and Democrats to participate, though she appeared on both the Democratic and Republican ballots.

(From left to right)  Nick Spangler, Alain Oliver, Peggy Schmitt, Amanda Greenberg, Bob Rafetto

“I am encouraged and hopeful after Tuesday’s win,” said Schmitt. “Parents and taxpayers have spoken to us, and we agree that it is time to bring the West Chester Area School District back to excellence. We owe it to our children.”

The current board is comprised of eight Democrats and one Republican, partially as a result of two directors who changed their party registration from Republican to Democrat in advance of Tuesday’s primary. The PAC founders believe diversity of thought and ideas will improve student academic performance, a better work environment for teachers, and greater accountability and transparency for taxpayers.

Back to Basics was founded on five main issues: academic excellence, transparency, parents as partners, keeping politics out of the classroom, and fiscal accountability. As a result of the thousands of doors knocked on by the candidates over the last two months, the PAC added school safety to its campaign platform. Many parents expressed concerns about bullying at school and how it is handled. The candidates are committed to listening to the voters and addressing their concerns.

“We are thrilled with the results of our primary races,” said Greenberg. “The hours we spent talking to parents and hearing that they are ready for a change is paying off, and we know where we need to continue to work. This summer and fall will be very exciting.”

Alain Oliver, Region 3 candidate, said, “The primary election day experience was great. It was fun to have so many people come up and say they recognized me from door knocking and that I earned their vote.”

The general election is on Nov. 7. All five candidates will be on the ballot, and every registered voter will have the opportunity to vote for the candidate(s) in their region.

To learn more about each candidate, visit Back to Basics West Chester. 


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Counterpoint: Too Much Parental Involvement Hurts Kids

For an alternate viewpoint, see: Point: Education’s Future Depends on Parent Power

I have been a local school board member since my daughters, now 11th-graders, were in second grade. In that time, I have been involved in education policy discussions at the local, state and national levels on issues related to the rights of LGBTQ+ students, standardized testing and the privatization of public education. The rise of the so-called “parental rights” movement in public education has been one of the thorniest, most perplexing issues I have encountered.

There is no doubt that parents play a crucial role in the education of their children. Who would dare argue that they don’t? But in the face of the anti-Critical Race Theory, anti-LGBTQ+, anti-Social Emotional Learning, anti-Diversity Equity and Inclusion juggernaut unleashed by heavily funded, right-leaning astroturf parent groups such as Moms for Liberty, it has become imperative that we have an honest discussion about how much say parents should have in what is (or is not) taught in our public schools.

My district, unlike many, is racially, ethnically and socioeconomically diverse, with 31 languages spoken in the homes of our students. Educating such a diverse student body presents many challenges and requires a nuanced approach to policy and practice that ensures all students have equal opportunities to learn, thrive and grow. While it is easy for school leaders to say they embrace diversity, equity and inclusion, it’s far too challenging to implement policies promoting those principles.

I have spent my time on the school board helping to develop systems that ensure decisions are made collaboratively and with as many voices at the decision-making table as possible. This means making space not only for administrators, teachers, parents and students but also ensuring that historically marginalized groups are represented.

Decisions that affect students should never be based on the whims of those with the most privilege or power and indeed not on who has the loudest voice in the room.

However, the latter has become the hallmark of parental rights activists. They attend meeting after meeting, berating, shouting down, and even making death threats against school board members. During the pandemic, battles over masks erupted at podiums at far too many school board meetings across the country and quickly morphed into demands to ban books, censor curriculum and muzzle “woke” teachers that parents accused of “grooming” their children.

In the 2022 midterm elections, parental rights activists were on the ballot in numerous states. With the support and endorsement of Moms for Liberty, they ran campaigns to become school board members in districts in red, blue and purple states. Moms for Liberty operates county chapters that aim to serve as watchdogs “over all 13,000 school districts.” Chapters empower parents to “defend their parental rights” and “identify, recruit & train liberty-minded parents to run for school boards.”

The “anti-woke” agenda espoused by Moms for Liberty endorsed school board candidates had the greatest successes in Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis proudly declared the state of being “where woke goes to die.” But in many other parts of the country, parental rights candidates lost their elections, with even conservative political operatives acknowledging that many of their campaigns were “too hyperbolic.”

Chaos has already erupted in several districts where they succeeded and won board majorities, with newly formed, inexperienced boards firing superintendents or forcing them to resign. One board voted to ban the teaching of Critical Race Theory just hours after being sworn in.

After a decade of experience as a school board member, there’s one thing I can say for sure — the majority of parents, teachers and community members do not respond well to instability and disruption in their local public schools. When school boards run amok and rash decisions make headlines, communities work quickly to restore calm. If parental rights school board majorities continue to govern recklessly, they will undoubtedly face a backlash from voters.

Creating and implementing sound school policies and practices that respect and affirm all students requires collaboration. It does not allow for the divisive, polarizing rhetoric and impetuous, rash decision-making that have become the calling cards of the so-called parental rights movement.

Parent, Residents Complain About Sexual Content in WCASD Books

A West Whiteland parent says he was surprised and disturbed when his 11-year-old daughter brought a book home from school that tells the story, in graphic detail, of a young boy who wants to be a girl. Worse, the father said, the book was assigned to his daughter by her teacher.

The book is “George” by Alex Gino features references to pornography and masturbation, according to The New York Times.

The West Whiteland parent, who asked that his name not be used, told the West Chester Area School Board about the book and his concerns at a Jan. 24 meeting.

“My daughter asked me, ‘Is this book OK,’” the dad said. “I opened it and began flipping through the pages and began noticing things.” The main character, a fourth-grade boy named George, wanted to be a girl. He takes pills to block male hormones, begins to wear girls’ underwear and clothes, and uses the girls’ bathroom.

“Why would an adult, a teacher, give her a book like this?” he asked. “I told her to take it back and ask for another book. The second book, about a young Black boy in Harlem who was bullied by White boys and called the N-word, the father told the Delaware Valley Journal. “What is the teacher’s agenda?”

He contacted the superintendent and principal before speaking at the school board meeting. Because of other incidents, he is concerned about the direction the district is headed in. He said two different teachers asked his older daughter about being vaccinated in front of her classmates, a violation of medical privacy. Also, a homeroom teacher refused to have the class recite the Pledge of Allegiance and a student on his daughter’s bus told other students that America should be communist.

“This is what kids are talking about today,” he said.

“I’m asking for a policy that limits a teacher’s ability to promote or discuss any hot topics in the classroom,” he told the school board. And if a teacher does not comply, there should be consequences, he said.

Another West Whiteland resident, Mike Winterode, also spoke to the board. He had compiled a list of more than 70 books that discuss various transgender and LGBTQ topics, sometimes in clinical detail, which are in the middle and high school libraries. Winterode mentioned “George” as well.

“Scientists specializing in brain development have confirmed that the portions of the brain that evaluate risk and make informed decisions are among the last to mature, usually not until the early twenties,” said Winterorde. “With that in mind, I can think of few decisions that require a fully developed, mature brain than deciding to change one’s gender. Which is why I find it troubling that there are books currently in our middle school libraries that promote changing gender before puberty.”

Another book Winterode mentioned was “Pet,’ a crime-fighting novel by Akwaeke Emez. In it, “The main character decided at age three that he was a girl. At age 10, he was implanted with puberty blockers, and at 13 given hormones that made his hips widen and breasts grow. Surely, all necessary details for a crime-fighting novel. This book is currently available in all three middle school libraries,” he said.

“Most parents are unaware that these books exist in our middle school libraries. They deserve an explanation as to why their children are being exposed to this kind of material at such a vulnerable age,” said Winterode.

Other area parents, including some in Radnor, have raised similar complaints about the contents of the school libraries.

The board did not respond to the men’s comments or discuss the topic at the meeting.

However, district communications manager Molly Schwember said the district takes their concerns seriously and works with parents and guardians.

“As affirmed in the Library Bill of Rights of the American Library Association and outlined in district policy 109.1AG1, we also take seriously our responsibility to help our students grow into informed and responsible citizens through free access to a comprehensive collection of materials that are representative and considerate of varied interests, abilities, and maturity,” she said in an emailed response.

Under the district’s policies, “parents and guardians are able to review existing instructional materials and submit a complaint form requesting the reconsideration of the use of a book in our schools. The process for responding to and making final decisions on any complaints received is outlined in District policy 906AG1. The district has responded to all existing complaints of this nature thus far, and has taken the necessary actions deemed appropriate following the review and recommendation process,” she said.

“In all areas, the district is committed to being responsive to new information and questions, and these policies guide us in our process for addressing any formal complaints received as well as the initial selection of books to be included within our schools,” she said.

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ROSICA: Will Parents Tip the Elections in 2022?

One day after winning the gubernatorial race in Virginia, Glenn Youngkin stated “We’re going to embrace our parents, not ignore them.”  Youngkin understood that angry and frustrated parents were essential to his successful bid to become governor.

All over the country, parents are dissatisfied with their local schools and school boards and concerned about their children’s future.  Extended school closures, hybrid classrooms, and overly conservative quarantine policies have harmed students academically, emotionally, and behaviorally.  Transitioning back and forth between remote, hybrid, and in-person creates continued stress for both parents and students, particularly the neediest children.

In Pennsylvania, Back to School PA PAC helped to mobilize and organize these distraught parents to recruit, train, and support potential school board candidates who put the students first. Supporting school board races in 17 diverse counties and well over 200 bi-partisan candidates, Back to School PA achieved a 60 percent success rate in its first endeavor. However, Back to School PA believes that 2021 was just the beginning for parent involvement in school board races and politics in general.

With no school board races in 2022 in Pennsylvania, these same advocates who formed Political Action Committees (PAC) to support school board candidates are trying to determine how they can influence and/or support other key races across the state. Parents have been activated, and most are now committed to remaining engaged in local and state government.

More parents may come out to vote in Pennsylvania in 2022 than any other election in recent history. Regardless of political affiliation, parents are exhausted and concerned about the future for their children and for the commonwealth.  If schools do not stay open reliably, it is difficult for parents to work.  Mothers bore the brunt of the school closures, as 33 percent of women left the workforce to support their children during virtual school. Single mothers and low-income families suffered the most during school closures. Domestic violence and child abuse increased. Pediatric hospitals are being overrun with mental health concerns, and suicide attempts have increased exponentially. More children are being hospitalized for eating disorders and depression.  Parents have watched their children falling apart literally before their eyes.

Parents have spent almost two years witnessing how local government works and how it failed our children. Many parents participated in their local school board meetings for the first time.  These parents would spend hours preparing their statement, and then they were dismissed as being selfish for wanting their children in school. In some districts, parent comments were actually censored or not included during virtual meetings. For the most part, parents have not been welcome at school board meetings and many have felt disrespected, while some have been escorted out of meetings by police.  Parents want transparency about what is happening in the classroom, and they want to be engaged and respected, not dismissed or labeled domestic terrorists.

The National School Boards Association labeled upset parents as “domestic terrorists” who should be considered dangerous and treated as such.  Instead of encouraging and modeling civil discourse, local, state and national government leaders have repeatedly shown that differing opinions and simply asking questions are not welcome.

These issues are likely to bring out more parents to vote in 2022. Parents want candidates who are not beholden to special interest groups, like the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA). They want candidates who will place the importance of children and their future first. Most parents want a balanced approach to government, diversity of thought, and transparency around decision-making.  Every parent wants to be respected as the person who knows what is best for their child.

Respect of parental rights may be the single biggest issue for the 2022 elections.  Parents have never felt as demoralized and hopeless as they have over the last 22 months.  Watching their children struggle academically, emotionally, and behaviorally and feeling helpless to support them has changed the game for many parents.  And those parents who were also forced out of the workforce or had to choose between work and supporting their children during virtual learning, will not soon forget the impact of these draconian measures on their children.

2022 may be the year when parents reclaim their rights at the polls.

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Rosica Named Executive of Back To School PA  

For the November 2021 general election, Back to School PA, a bi-partisan PAC, awarded close to $700,000 in funding for school board races across the state.  Back to School PA supported 54 local PACs in 17 different counties, ranging from the Southeast to Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and Erie and included suburban, rural, and urban districts. Back to School PA funding supported over 200 candidates and achieved a 60 percent success rate for its first endeavor. PACs were awarded funding solely based on their mission to keep schools open and hold those accountable who kept schools closed.  Funding decisions were not made based on political party or winnability of the election.

Back to School PA is pleased to announce that Beth Ann Rosica is the new Executive Director, effective December 1, 2021.  Rosica served as the Chief Strategy Officer since the PAC’s inception in July 2021. She worked closely with Clarice Schillinger, the former Executive Director. Schillinger spearheaded the grassroots initiative by identifying community advocates, assisting them to set up new PACs, providing funding and training for school board candidates, and serving as a resource throughout the entire electoral process. Back to School PA is eternally grateful to Schillinger for her dedication, leadership, commitment, and hard work to ensure that our schools are never closed again.  Stay tuned for more information on Schillinger’s next steps in January.

Rosica holds a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and has dedicated her career to advocating on behalf of underserved and at-risk children and families. Under her leadership, Back to School PA has expanded its mission from keeping schools open and holding those accountable for closing schools to addressing the large learning loss and mental and behavioral health issues related to school closures.  Pennsylvania children have suffered immensely over the last 22 months, and it is imperative that we work tirelessly to get them caught up academically and back on track emotionally and behaviorally.  Back to School PA will be providing resources to assist parents, teachers, and school districts to address these issues.

In addition to serving as a Think Tank for Pennsylvania in 2022, Back to School PA has also identified several other states where our mission and strategy could be replicated.  In an analysis of states that were most impacted by school closures that have school board races in 2022 and do not have a governor race, there are four targeted states:  Virginia, New Jersey, Delaware, and Kentucky.  Back to School PA will be identifying potential partners and community advocates in those states to assist them in replicating the success experienced in Pennsylvania. Back to School PA remains committed to keeping our schools open and addressing the consequences of extended school closures.

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Books with Graphic Sexual Content Draw Radnor Parents’ Ire

Should elementary school children learn about sex in graphic terms and middle school children be exposed to raw sexuality in assigned reading?

The 2021 culture wars are evident in tony Radnor Township, where some parents lambasted the Radnor Township School Board at an Oct. 26 meeting, including one mom who asked that children leave the room before she read parts of a school library book to the board. Another parent said he had removed his two youngest children from Radnor schools because of the constant battle over sex and violence in the curriculum.

Those Radnor parents are among many around the country who object to their children reading sexually graphic books. Parents became more aware of what their children are being taught as the pandemic required students to study at home with online classes.

“Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe

Two books cited by the Radnor parents, “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe and “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison, were recently removed from the schools in Fairfax County, Va. after parents complained. Parents in Carmel, Ind. also objected to sexually explicit books in schoolsand parents in Kansas City, Mo. complained about books in the public library in recent months.

“As a board, you have failed us,” said Radnor parent Kelly Martin. “You put these books in our schools.  Four of you are running for re-election and one of your bullet points for our community is that parents want to ‘ban books from our libraries.’ You bet I do. Not all books and magazines belong in school libraries, just as not all movies are intended for all audiences.

“Radnor doesn’t have a ‘Playboy’ or ‘Hustler’ subscription because it’s not appropriate content for a school, so I guess you could say I want to ban ‘Playboy,’ too. The books that you see here, these books don’t belong in our schools. You can have them and the magazines in your homes. You can share them with your kids, too, if that’s what you’re into. You do you,” she said.

“But as board members, you don’t get to groom our children and invade their minds with books containing pornography, pedophilia, rape, and incest,” Martin said. “And that doesn’t scratch the surface of the political propaganda you’ve stacked our library shelves with. The sad thing about stacking the library with these ‘new books’ is, you’ve done it under the cover of ‘equity and inclusion.’ The books are presented as immigrant, BIPOC, and LGBTQIA stories. Do you have any idea how completely ridiculous that is?”

Martin described the content of some of the books.

“Here’s the thing, for parents who can afford private school, this isn’t a problem,” said Martin. “They don’t have to fight this battle. And if we had school choice, the parents here wouldn’t need to fight it, either. We would leave en masse. But, when Valley Forge (Military Academy) applied for charter status you turned them down. You had the audacity to turn them down for having a church on the property… You’ve purged over 16,000 books over the last four years, and I’ve presented you with packets featuring excerpts from just a handful of the books you’ve brought into our Radnor schools.”

Another parent, Clark Engle, said he and his wife have taken their two younger children out of Radnor public schools because of the sex and violence in learning materials. Virtual learning during the pandemic “did open our eyes to some things and confirm some of our concerns,” he said.

“With our oldest entering college and our taxes increasing by 64 percent (due in part to the county reassessment and school district tax increase). This is a significant financial burden for our family. We did not plan or budget for this,” he said.

“So, I hope you’re asking yourself what would make this family leave the number-one-rated school district in the state of Pennsylvania. Well, for starters, let me say that lists and rankings mean nothing. What matters is what is really happening on the ground floor,” he said.

“What I am here to talk about and what was the straw that broke the camel’s back for us in deciding to send our two youngest to private school was the increasing rate at which I’m seeing young children being robbed of their innocence by being introduced or exposed to gratuitous sex and violence in both videos and literature in school,” he said.

He first noticed a problem when his oldest son, now 19, brought home “Point Blank” from the Wayne Elementary School library when he was nine years old, which Clark found to be “as racy and violent as one of the more recent James Bond films.” When he contacted the school librarian he was told it was an award-winning book recommended by literary sources.

“Therein lies the problem. I expect more from Radnor educators. I expect them to do some due diligence rather than rely on unreliable outside sources,” he said.

“It gets worse from there. The 2020 RHS summer reading list for 9th grade (children as young as 13 entering high school) included the book ‘Wild,’ which had a lot of graphic sex and drug use in it. It’s my understanding it took an outcry from parents to get it removed,” he said.

Then, this past summer, he learned that students were subjected to videos “of an extremely violent nature which also negatively depicted our law enforcement professionals.”

Sexuality and gender identity should be discussed at home, not in the schools, he said.

“God entrusted these children to their parents, not you,” Clark said.

“In the limited amount of time I have been able to research which of these books are in our libraries, I have found 19 books in the elementary schools dealing with sex, transgender, or sexual orientation issues.

One book talks about a boy who wants to “cut off his genitals and become a girl” and includes information about how to look at porn online and not get caught by your parents, Clark said. Some Radnor Middle School students were assigned that book, “which is outrageous,” he said.

“That is still not the worst. There are books in our high school library that contain literary pornography,” he said and offered the board a list.

Michael Petitti, a spokesman for the school district, gave this statement: “The district is always willing to hear the concerns of families and to respond whenever appropriate. The district strives for full transparency with families by welcoming parents/guardians to review all instructional materials and curriculum upon request, and to formally question the use of those materials if desired.”

District policy 144.1 outlines the process for selection of library materials and re-evaluation of those items, he said. Parents and guardians can review instructional materials, as well.

“The district wishes to work collaboratively and productively with all stakeholders,” Petitti said. “Policies 144.1 and 105.1 provide a sound process to follow to ensure a thorough review of the concerns in question, and to take action as necessary,” he said.

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