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Alice in Drag — Curiouser and Curiouser When It Becomes a School Field Trip

This article first appeared in Broad + Liberty.

If Lewis Carroll were alive today, “curious” might be the word he would use to describe the People’s Light Theater performance of his world-renowned novel, Alice in Wonderland.

The theater, located in Chester County is currently running a holiday, pantomime rendition of the classic. The website says the show is appropriate for ages five to 105 and includes a drag queen performer in the cast. Eric Jaffe, according to the theater’s casting page, “is a genderfull [sic] glamour monster and the recipient of the 2018 Philly Drag Awards, Best Host, Best Alternative Drag Queen, And Drag Queen of the Year as well as 2020’s Performer of the Year.”

Just as curious is the fact that multiple school districts in Chester County are sponsoring field trips for students to attend the performance, including West Chester Area, Tredyffrin/Easttown, and Downingtown. Students as young as second grade and up to sixth grade attended the performance.

The theater website makes a point to highlight Eric Jaffe’s role on the main page. “This year, People’s Light is thrilled to welcome award-winning drag performer Eric Jaffe as the audience’s new guide through the magical mayhem in the role of Dinah/Cheshire Cat.” None of the other performers are mentioned in the overview.

Controversy erupted after some children attended the show with their school and informed parents that they were required to wear masks at the performance. As parents started looking further into the show, they realized that a drag queen was appearing as one of the main characters and that the theater was promoting this performer above the rest.

A public Facebook group posted about the issues with parents weighing in on both sides.

While the majority of comments were very concerned about the field trip, Meghan Reikob disagreed about the content of the show.

“WCASD did list the show name on permissions slips. I do agree that there should have been advance notice provided by the school about People’s Light mask policy.  But I genuinely don’t understand the rest of your argument,” Reikob said. “Has no one complaining ever heard of a panto before? Nothing about this is new or woke.” ”

Her comments, however, did not address others’ concerns of a drag queen performing for children or the fact that the theater advertised the show as such.

No one is questioning or concerned about pantomimes as a theatrical modality or the fact that someone of one gender can play a different role in a performance. Theater has a long tradition of men playing women’s roles, dating back to the Greeks and Romans. In more recent history, the theater term “transvesti” is used to describe the portrayal of a character of the opposite sex. Therefore, the idea that someone of a different gender can play the role in a theatrical performance is not surprising or uncommon, nor is it troubling to parents.

What concerns many parents is the lack of transparency and communication with the school districts.

Downingtown Area School District’s permission slip (see below) for the field trip did not even include the name of the performance. While some districts did include the name of the show, they did not state that their children would see a drag queen performer. Nor did they state that every child would require a mask. This is despite the fact that the districts are not currently requiring masks for children at school, and some children have mask exemptions that may or may not have been accommodated. Parents were not given enough information to make informed decisions about whether their child should attend.

One of the Facebook commenters suggested that parents should have researched the show before completing the permission slip. And while that is a reasonable solution, parents should be able to rely on our publicly funded schools and administrators to make good decisions and to provide parents with enough information to also make decisions in the best interest of their child.

Alice in Wonderland was written in 1865 by Lewis Carroll, a deeply conservative and spiritual man and a deacon in the Church of England. I am fairly certain that Carroll did not intend his book to be used as a social commentary on gender fluidity, nor do most parents. Most parents are familiar with the whimsical nature of the book and likely thought it would be an entertaining and educational field trip for their child.

Several parents of children who attended the show shared anonymously, for fear of retaliation from their district, that they would not have allowed their child to attend if they knew that they were required to wear a mask. Others stated concerns over the performance and promotion of the drag queen performer. Parents also questioned whether there was any discussion following the performance at school.

Both the West Chester Area and Tredyffrin/Easttown School Districts were asked to comment on the field trip. Molly Schwemler, manager of district communications for West Chester Area School District, responded with the following:

“Sixth grade students from the West Chester Area School District did attend the performance of Alice in Wonderland: A Musical Panto at People’s Light and Theater. As part of People’s Light and Theater’s current health and safety guidelines, masks are required for all those attending indoor performances regardless of vaccination status. Students and staff attending the performance were provided masks and did follow this policy.

“In advance of the performance, families were informed that students had the opportunity to attend a contemporary, pantomime version of Alice in Wonderland and given permission slips to return. The actors’ biographies and acting credentials were not included with this information but were accessible on the People’s Light and Theater website.”

Tredyffrin/Easttown School District did not respond to the request for comment.

Bucks County Mom Beat Shapiro in Court. Now She’s Fighting to Elect Mastriano.

Jamie Cohen Walker is the Bucks County mom who beat Attorney General Josh Shapiro in the state Supreme Court.

The Chalfont resident, a former certified reading specialist, is now a stay-at-home mom to her 16, 14, and 11-year-old children. During the COVID-19 classroom lockdowns, she was active in the Reopen Bucks movement to get kids back in school.

She says she is a politically moderate former Democrat, but she may be a model of the “mama bear” voter Republicans need to win in this year’s midterms.

“I’m Jewish. I was a Democrat. I would not be a Democrat now. I don’t think I could do it after seeing what they’ve done to our kids,” said Walker, a guest speaker at a recent rally for GOP gubernatorial candidate state Sen. Doug Mastriano.

Political consultant Albert Eisenberg of RedStateBlue, said, “Suburban, college-educated women have been up for grabs since the GOP transitioned from the party of Romney to the party of Trump. But now the Republican Party is in its post-Trump era and many of these moms are returning to the fold.

“They are seeing de facto Democratic policies of absolute radicalism — people who genuinely believe parents should have no say in their child’s education, people who are still forcing toddlers to wear masks, which is completely inhumane,” said Eisenberg. “Adding to this sharp left turn of the Democrats is the skyrocketing cost of living and eroding value of a dollar due to the Democrats’ insane economic policies — and the suburbs are certainly coming back, in places, to the GOP this cycle.”

Since the 2021 school board elections brought a conservative majority to the Central Bucks School Board, Walker said she is not concerned that the board would agree to shut down the schools again in case another epidemic happens.

But if Shapiro is elected governor, that’s another story.

“If Josh Shapiro wins, could he shut down schools? Absolutely. The only thing that would shut down schools is a governor’s emergency. Our (school) board is really good now, so they would not shut down schools. And our health director would not shut down schools.

“But Josh Shapiro could shut down schools. Absolutely. He fought to keep them closed,” said Walker.

Walker is one of the right-to-know warriors battling the school district for information about how it made decisions about COVID-related closings and mask mandates and finding out through a trove of emails that the district had kowtowed to teachers’ union demands.

“I won my first right-to-know appeal in January 2021. The district said it would give me all the records except three emails and took me to court,” Walker said. “That was when (attorney) Chad Schmee reached out to me and said, ‘I can win these records for you.’”

After Walker won, Supt. Dr. John Kopicki “just up and disappeared,” said Walker.  “The superintendent of the largest district in Pennsylvania decided to leave in March 2021. As soon as he left, I received my emails.”

“We have a local health department,” said Walker. “Dr. David Damsker is our health director.  When you have a local health department, they determine the mitigation for something. Also, a mask is actually a modified quarantine.

She points to an “email that Dr. Damsker wrote to all (Bucks) superintendents telling them you don’t have to be hybrid,” said Walker. “Every child can be in school. You don’t have the authority to do this. They broke the law. They did not have the authority.

“And Dr. Damsker said if you’re wearing a mask (when exposed to someone with COVID), you don’t have to stay home and quarantine,” said Walker. “But our school district wasn’t doing that. Our school district was sending healthy kids home. That was against the law, too.

“No one ever wrote about it. No one ever questioned it. They kept 1,100 kids home that were considered contacts, and no one was getting sick. They weren’t consulting the health department. They were just doing it on their own,” she said. “I don’t think people understand what they did to children. They missed so much school,” she said.

“In June 2021, Dr. Damsker came to our school district and said the kids don’t have to wear masks anymore, and we’re going to treat COVID like the flu and move on from COVID. Well, a lot went down in August.”

On Aug. 31, 2021, former state Health Director Alison Beam required school students and staff to wear masks again.

“So Central Bucks already started, and everybody was normal, all the kids were back to school normal,” said Walker. “So they said on Sept. 7, all the kids had to start wearing masks again.”

Beam put the “illegal mask mandate in, and I joined a few other parents to sue Allison Beam. It was Josh Shapiro who defended it, his office. We won in Commonwealth Court,” she said, but then Shapiro appealed to the state Supreme Court. “And we won. We beat him in the Supreme Court.”

Then in December, Beam resigned.

“Our health director (Damsker) put out health guidance on Aug. 15, then Alison Beam and the teachers’ union pressured our county commissioners to change the health guidance, then nobody ever heard from our health director again.”

“It’s really bad what went on here,” she said. “Some of the Democratic people hated Dr. Damsker. There were Facebook groups about him, ‘Ditch Dr. Damsker.’ They did such horrible things to him.”

At the Mastriano rally, Walker said, “Here in Bucks County, we saw first-hand how Democrats were willing to use COVID-19 as a political tool to strip away our personal freedom and exert their will over us. We watched our health director was silenced by Democrat bosses when the Wolf administration did not agree with his health guidance. They interfered with our health director’s legal authority to set health guidance during a pandemic. We lived with the effect of that illegal interference for two painful years. A group of us parents stood in their way. We acted as the opposition to the Wolf administration’s mandates.

“We knew that keeping kids out of school would harm them, so we fought, and we fought extremely hard because the Democratic politicians and their allies, the teachers union, made us their enemy,” she said. The parents were called “domestic terrorists” and “jerks.”

“They weaponized the government against us,” Walker said.

Walker and another parent, Megan Brock, are in a legal battle with Bucks County over their right-to-know request about how the county issued its health directives, bypassing Damsker. The county sued the two moms to keep some of the commissioners’ emails private after Walker and Brock won an appeal to the state Office of Open Records.

“After decades of Republican control of Bucks County, these Democrat commissioners are the first Bucks County administration ever to sue a private citizen to hide their emails, their own words,” said Walker. “Those emails they’re trying to hide from us are about how Democrat politicians interfered with our children’s education.”

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PODCAST: Attorney Wally Zimolong Says Public Schools Are Pushing Radicalism and Silencing Parents

On this edition of the Delaware Valley Journal podcast, veteran attorney Wally Zimolong talks to News Editor Linda Stein about his cases on behalf of parents who want to know what schools are teaching their children. Zimolong has brought multiple legal actions on behalf of parents who’ve encountered public school administrators keeping curriculum and classroom instruction secret.

PLUS: Senator Rick Scott (R-Fla), the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, talks about how the 2022 battle to control the U.S. Senate is shaping up. He pushes back on claims the GOP has weak candidates in the field who are putting winnable seats at risk.

Hosted by Michael Graham.


SCHILLINGER: Hands That Rocked Cradles Will Rock Midterm Elections

For the first time in political history, Moms will be a force to be reckoned with when determining the outcome of the midterm election. This is what happens when the government and elected officials attempt to strip parents of their rights.

When I became a mother at the young age of 19, the moment my daughter was placed in my arms, I knew without question that I would fight to the ends of the earth for her and her access to the American Dream. If you told me just six months ago that I would be on a statewide campaign for lieutenant governor, I would never have believed it.

Yet, here we are: 25,000 miles in 12 weeks and counting! This is bigger than me. This is a movement of tens of thousands of parents standing up and saying that enough is enough. We are done co-parenting with the government.

After starting Back to School PA PAC with the mission to fully reopen our schools, I knew that we could not stop at just opening schools. There are so many issues that need to be addressed within our public education system. At the top of the list are mask and vaccine mandates, radical curriculum, and sexually explicit content in our libraries. Having a voice in the Executive Branch is essential to address these issues, in addition to parents having a voice in their children’s education.

The past three school years of watching a tyrannical government attempt to destroy our children, their education, and their future was the last straw for many. Just in Pennsylvania, 33 percent of women left the workforce at the start of the pandemic to be home with their children for virtual learning.

The Moms that were not able to leave their employment were tasked with finding caregivers, relying on family, or suffering from the guilt of leaving their children unattended while they went to work to ensure they could put food on the table. The weight of the world has been placed on women’s shoulders.

Even though it has been an incredible lift, the Moms have borne this burden admirably, and they will win the midterms. The Moms will take back our commonwealth and our nation. I am honored to be that voice for the Moms across Pennsylvania and to stand up to Governor Tom Wolf and Attorney General Josh Shapiro.

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Republican Gubernatorial Candidate Lou Barletta Speaks Out on Inappropriate Books in Schools

Republican Lou Barletta, a former mayor and congressman running for governor held a press event Monday to emphasize his opposition to inappropriate books in area public schools. It is a hot-button issue and one of several educational concerns that drove many parents to the polls in the 2021 school board elections.

Education continues to be a significant issue for voters going into the primary election in two weeks. Barletta took a strong stance against critical race theory and sexually explicit books in public schools.

Additionally, Barletta said he is the only candidate for governor who has signed the 1776 pledge, indicating that he will require that schools teach American history accurately.

“One of the silver linings of the COVID-19 pandemic was how parents finally got to see up close what their kids are learning in school,” said Barletta, who spoke at the Sheraton Great Valley Hotel in Frazer. “When I’m governor, we will restore the rights to parents and guarantee that there will be no sexually explicit content in our schools without parental consent.”

Parents have been speaking out against these age-inappropriate books in public schools throughout the Delaware Valley region, including Radnor, Downingtown, Great Valley, Central Bucks, and West Chester Area school districts. And it’s been an issue for parents across the country and arguably the main issue that propelled Republican governor Glenn Youngkin into office in Virginia.

Some Chester County parents contacted Barletta to alert him to certain books available to children down to elementary school age.

Lou Barletta with parents at his press conference.

One of those parents, Fenicia Redman, who has children in the Great Valley School District, spoke out on the issue.

“I met Lou during a (candidates’) forum, and he was the only candidate when I confronted this serious issue about making a stand,” Redman said. “I have been confronting this issue to Great Valley along with other parents for the past eight months, and it shows how urgent it is to have federal and state officials address this in our children’s schools.”

One of the highly contested books in the West Chester Area School District’s taxpayer-funded school libraries is a book titled “Gender Queer.” The book is “a graphic biography of a young female who wants to be male but has to figure out how to incorporate her female body into that fantasy.”

Image from “Gender Queer”

When a parent brought the book to the district’s attention, a 17-person committee was formed to review it. On March 28, the school board voted 8 to 1 to keep this book, even as tensions over the issue continued to rise.

“We can’t allow this issue to continue to divide us, and we must make sure that our kids are protected from this explicit content,” Barletta said. “There is no explanation needed to think this is tolerable, and I will do everything within my power to ban this content.”

Barletta, who has four daughters and 10 grandchildren, emphasized the importance of having a good education and how it will have lasting effects on families throughout the commonwealth.

“Education is the key to lifting people out of poverty and empowering kids to follow their dreams,” Barletta said. “When we address this correctly, Pennsylvania will be a place where families will want to send their kids to school here whether it’s charter, public, or private.”

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GOP Rep. Tracy Pennycuick Runs for State Senate

State Rep. Tracy Pennycuick is running for the state Senate seat now held by Sen. Bob Mensch (R-Bucks/Berks/Montgomery), who is retiring.

Pennycuick (R-Harleysville) says she loves her current job serving her constituents, but since Mensch is retiring, she decided to run for the Senate “so there will be a continuity of services.”

Pennycuick wants to “maintain the integrity of the area, the values of our area. I really love the job.”

If she is elected to the Senate, Pennycuick says she would work to change Pennsylvania’s onerous tax laws that are causing senior citizens to lose their homes and driving businesses to other states.

Pennycuick grew up near Boston. An Army combat veteran, she initially enlisted as a medic. She earned a degree in business and a commission in the U.S. Army. She served as a Blackhawk pilot, including three combat tours in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Desert Storm where she was awarded the bronze star.

Pennycuick retired as a lieutenant colonel after 26 years of service. She was a platoon leader, operations officer, company commander, aviation group safety officer, brigade human resources officer, executive officer, Department of Defense efficiency expert, and foreign liaison to the UK Ministry of Defence.

Pennycuick and her husband, Rick, who also served in the armed forces, settled in Harleysville when he was in command of the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) Philadelphia. The couple has four grown children, three of whom are serving in the military, and two grandchildren.

“I’m excited by the opportunity to expand my service to our communities in the state Senate,” said Pennycuick. “As state representative, I’ve focused on providing our front-line heroes, families, seniors, workers, and small businesses with the support they need through the pandemic while also pushing forward important legislation that protects some of our most vulnerable populations and vital government reform.

“Additionally, we’ve made sure our schools have the resources they need to provide excellent education, so our students succeed despite the adversity presented by the pandemic.  The outpour of support thus far has been humbling, and I look forward to campaigning for every vote this year,” she said.

Mensch, meanwhile, has endorsed Pennycuick.

“I’ve worked with Tracy in Harrisburg and her district over the past couple years, and when I decided to retire, I could think of no one who would work harder for the residents of the 24th state Senate District.  Clearly, Tracy is a fighter. Her years of service in the U.S. Army and work in the private sector have prepared her for this job which is why she has been so successful in the state House. I’m happy to lend my support to her for state Senate,” stated Mensch.

If she is elected, Pennycuick says she wants to make Pennsylvania “more attractive for businesses to come and do business.”

“We have a declining population,” said Pennycuick, noting the state has lost congressional seats. By making the state more attractive for business and manufacturers, it will be more likely that “our kids stay in the area,” she said.

She would also like to “fix the school tax and real estate taxes,” so that senior citizens can afford to stay in their homes.

“That’s a big issue,” she said, and something homeowners always complain to her about.

As for reducing school taxes, Pennycuick would like to have smaller districts join larger districts so there is “an economy of scale” and districts would not be paying so many administrators. There are currently 500 school districts in Pennsylvania, she noted.

Cuts to real estate taxes could be paid for through increasing the sales tax and the personal income tax, she said. But she would like the money to stay local, rather than going to the state.

“We can do it better and have great schools,” she said. “We owe it to our seniors.”

“We’ve got to think outside of the box and be more fiscally responsive,” said Pennycuick, who favors educational choice. “We need to give our kids an opportunity to be successful. No parent ever wakes up and says, ‘I want my kid to go to a failing school.”

She would also like to see more transparency in state government as well.

Pennycuick, who said she prioritizes constituent services, was elected in the House in 2020. She has supported first responders, workers, and victims of violence. She helped pass a budget that “fully funded” schools and for reforms in state lobbying practices. She also practices bipartisanship and tries to have a Democrat as a co-sponsor of her bills, when possible.

“I’m a firm believer in fixing problems,” said Pennycuick. “We have to work together.”

After the military, Pennycuick started a small business in the aviation services industry and employed 17 people. She learned firsthand the difficulties businesses face dealing with government red-tape and regulations. That was why she has worked to support small businesses in the face of the pandemic as they fight to survive and continue to meet payroll each week.

Pennycuick served as the director of Veterans Affairs for Montgomery County for three years and continues to serve on several veteran non-profit boards.

When she is not working, Pennycuick enjoys traveling, snowshoeing, refurbishing old furniture, and rehabbing houses. Most recently, she went to Alaska, where one of her daughters is stationed and “petted a moose.”

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A $900 COVID Test? Taxpayer-Funded Covid Testing Program Failing to Get Off the Ground in PA Schools

An $87 million contract between the state and Gingko Bioworks to provide Covid-19 testing to schools across the commonwealth is floundering, just as Pennsylvania schools are struggling to maintain in-person instruction amidst a major spike in cases of the Omicron variant.

The testing program has distributed about 97,000 swabs, according to state data released Thursday. It’s not known if the number of swabs represents the total number of students and school employees tested, given that some may have been tested multiple times.

But if the 97,000 figure represents a one-to-one ratio for tests, that would mean about 5.7% of the total statewide student body had been tested. There are an estimated 1.7 million children in K-12 across the commonwealth.

This amounts to roughly $900 per test based on the funds allocated to the program thus far, although the cost per test is almost certain to drop before the contract ends in the summer.

Pennsylvania is paying for the program with federal dollars. The contract notes that the $87 million figure is an estimate, but it is not clear how much room there is for that price tag to come down. The Pennsylvania Department of Health and Gingko Bioworks did not respond to requests for comment.

Other information provided by the state indicates that 293 schools are enrolled in the testing program, while another 442 are in the “onboarding” process, something that could take weeks. With roughly 3,100 total schools, the program has only enrolled about 9.5% of the total available, with 14% onboarding.

When state officials announced the contract in mid-August, the Pennsylvania Department of Health was optimistic that the testing contract would play an important role in helping schools avoid virtual learning in the upcoming 2021-22 school year.

“It’s clear that everyone wants to keep kids in the classroom and keep extracurricular activities going,” Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam said at the time. “That’s why we’re encouraging all K through 12 schools to take advantage of this unique opportunity.”

Elements of the testing contract document go into further detail.

“Testing is a step in limiting the spread of this virus. While vaccines are still being administered, the vaccines have not been authorized for use in children under 12 years old. Testing is an additional measure to quickly identify individuals with COVID-19 and stop the spread before it becomes a large outbreak and triggers a school to close,” the document says.

In October, Beam also said the state was facing continued hesitation from schools to opt in, according to a report from WHYY.

“Any reluctance on the part of the schools may be because we need to continue educating them on the availability of it,” Beam said during a recent news conference. “And of course, we’ve tried, ad nauseam, to make sure schools are aware of it.”

Last week the Biden administration announced it would begin delivering millions of free Covid tests to schools around the country.

“Though most U.S. schools remain open, some have temporarily closed as the Omicron variant spreads around the country, infecting children and staff,” the Wall Street Journal reported. “President Biden has repeatedly said he wants schools to remain open, and he has advocated for additional testing as a solution for keeping children in the classroom.”

A Monday report from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review noted that school districts who were already testing would welcome the additional resources, but districts that were not testing planned on holding course.

“Burrell School District ‘is not interested in testing students or staff,’” Superintendent Shannon Wagner told the Tribune-Review.

Likewise, Hempfield Area schools are not testing, nor are Franklin Regional, New Kensington-Arnold, Norwin or Penn-Trafford, officials told the Tribune-Review.

The state webpage with testing data from the Ginkgo program also gives a hint into the bureaucratic hurdles that come with enrolling.

“There is an onboarding process once a school submits a Statement of Assurances which can take several weeks to complete,” the website notes. “This onboarding process includes developing a school and site specific testing plan, communicating the plan with the school community, staff training and ensuring individual consent is received and documented for participants.”

On Jan. 7, the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Federation of Teachers union asked the Wolf administration to mandate stringent mitigation protocols for all schools, or failing that, order a two-week pause to in-person learning.

This article first appeared in Broad + Liberty. 

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PA Ranks Third in Depression Among Children, And Closing Classrooms Could Make It Worse

Pennsylvania has the third-highest rate of major depressive episodes (MDE) among children in the nation, according to a health advocacy organization. And mental health professionals are linking childrens’ health problems to the decision to close classrooms in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Mental Health America, at least 13 percent of children from ages 12 to 17 reported having a major depressive episode (MDE) in the last year. Pennsylvania was ranked third with nearly 12 percent. In addition, the total number of youth experiencing an MDE increased by 206,000 nationwide since last year.

Closed classrooms have proven to be an academic disaster, according to test results and education experts. In addition, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), and the Children’s Hospital Association declared a national emergency for children’s mental health in October 

“I think that we are in the deep end of a mental health crisis, and I think the COVID-19 pandemic is only making it worse,” said AACAP President Warren Yiu Kee Ng. And Children’s hospitals reported a 38 percent increase of mental-health emergency room visits in the third quarter of 2021 compared to 2020, the Children’s Hospital Association reports.

Lauren H., a parent from Media who asked that her last name not be used, said her two-year-old son experiences some of that school avoidance as he navigates his first year of preschool.

“I don’t want to go back to school. I’m not safe there,” Lauren’s son told her. When asked why he didn’t feel safe, he explained to his mother that he needed to be a “superhero and wear a mask so he doesn’t get sick or make other people sick.”

Lauren explained the constant shutdowns for quarantine are also making it hard for her son to adjust to the separation.

“My little guy is 2 and started preschool for the first time,” Lauren said. “It’s now about halfway through the year and he’s still a mess with separation anxiety because we can’t get a consistent schedule. School shuts down all the time for quarantine, which as a working parent, is an absolute nightmare, too. He’s a pretty confident little dude so it’s heartbreaking. And fortunately, my job is supporting me. If they weren’t, there is no way I’d be able to work.”

“It’s hard to regulate your emotions when you’re feeling anxious,” Inna Leiter Psy.D., child and adolescent

Inna Leiter

psychologist and director for the Center for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, told Delaware Valley Journal. “I’m an anxiety expert, but I’m definitely seeing higher rates of anxiety with regard to going to school. So school anxiety and school avoidance was always something I specialized in, but now I’m seeing higher rates of that because kids are scared for their safety at school and their health.”

Leiter said that parents may see behaviors like biting and hitting in younger kids, who are going to be more likely to struggle more with emotion regulation and have it be exhibited in behaviors like lashing out.

“When you’re scared it’s harder to regulate other emotions like frustration. So, frustration tolerance is going to be harder when you’re trying to regulate your emotions when you’re already feeling anxious. I think that exacerbates the problem too.”

Zora M. Wolfe

Zora M. Wolfe, EdD, director of K-12 Educational Leadership and Instructional Technology Programs for Widener University, said it’s not just younger grade-level students that are struggling to adjust.

“We are seeing this across the board,” Wolfe said. “So, not only are they adjusting to different expectations, in a sense, they almost jumped a couple of years beyond the last time they were in a school. So, we’re seeing high school students behaving like middle school students since they’ve actually lost those years in that middle school setting.

“So we have high school teachers talking about, ‘Oh my goodness, my freshmen are acting like middle schoolers.’ And there are problems in the bathrooms and those types of things. But the reality is those students haven’t been in middle school so they’ve lost those years in that setting. They’ve lost the learning that comes with being in those settings and trying to figure out what those social interactions look like with their teachers and their peers.”

Leiter explained the best thing parents can do to help their kids adjust during this difficult time is to have a plan in place.

“I think it’s smart to have a plan,” Leiter said. “I think you should assume your classroom at some point is going to maybe get shut down and to have a solid plan in place that you discuss with the child at a neutral time, not when it’s actually happening, but at a time when school’s still going on, of collaborating with that child for what that plan could look like for the days when they’re going to be virtual.”

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Critics See Politics Behind Wolf’s Mask Move

The decision of whether Pennsylvania school children will be required to wear masks will be returned to local officials as of Jan. 17.

Gov. Tom Wolf announced Monday that mask and mitigation efforts will be returned to officials at the local level and that schools may use their own discretion to determine COVID-19 mitigation strategies based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance.

“The school mask order has been critical in ensuring Pennsylvania’s children could safely learn and grow in an in-person classroom setting at the beginning of the school year,” Wolf said. “During the announcement, my administration made clear that we would continue to reevaluate the status of the school mask mandate. Now, we are in a different place than we were in September, and it is time to prepare for a transition back to a more normal setting.

“Unfortunately, the COVID-19 virus is now a part of our daily lives but with the knowledge we’ve gained over the past 20 months and critical tools like the vaccine at our disposal, we must take the next step forward in our recovery. With more than 70 percent of adults vaccinated in Pennsylvania and the recently expanded vaccine eligibility, I strongly encourage parents to take safety measures to protect your children and your family – like getting vaccinated.”

Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland) welcomed the move.

“As we have stated from the beginning, the best approach to protecting the health and safety of Pennsylvanians from COVID-19 is a personal and local decision,” Ward said.  “Today’s decision by Gov. Wolf is a step in the right direction for Pennsylvania as we continue to manage out of crisis and focus our efforts on moving our state’s economy in the right direction.”

Did the outcome of the Nov. 2 election weigh on Wolf’s decision?

“Without question,” said Back to School PA PAC Executive Director Clarice Schillinger, when asked if she thought the election results played a role in Wolf’s decision-making.

Meanwhile, Paul Martino, one of the founders of the Back to School PA political action committee, which saw 60 percent of its candidates win statewide, said, “Clarice has been saying this all along…We are not surprised.”

While the PAC’s core issue was keeping kids in school, many parent and grandparent voters were also upset over mask mandates.

“The coincidence is undeniable that Gov. Wolf decided to now let masking guidance up to individual schools just days after the school board elections,” said Schillinger. “What that means, is everyone is now preparing and looking at the governor’s race in 2022. It is a real shame our children and their education has been caught between what is best for their learning and political power plays.”

Some area health departments also reacted.

“While we can’t know right now what the COVID landscape will look like in two months, the Bucks County Health Department is hopeful,” said spokesman James T. O’Malley. “What we do know is that the surest way for things to improve is for all eligible people to get vaccinated — including school-aged children.”

Kelly Cofrancisco, a spokeswoman for Montgomery County said, “The Office of Public Health will be meeting to discuss the governor’s announcement but we do not have any comment right now.”

But prior to Wolf’s order Montgomery County was only recommending masks based on transmission levels, she noted.

Meanwhile, Chester County Health Director Jeanne Franklin said, ““School districts and schools in Chester County have established their health & safety plans that include layered COVID-19 prevention strategies based upon state guidance, and all school leaders have worked throughout the pandemic to determine the plan that is best for their staff and students. With Governor Wolf’s announcement that decisions about masks will return to local school officials in mid-January, schools will review their health and safety plans related to mask use, and update if needed.  

“The Chester County Health Department will continue its role in monitoring all COVID-19 activity within schools, as well as providing support in the ways in which schools report, monitor and mitigate COVID-19 – just as it does with all infectious disease outbreaks,” she said.


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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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