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EBSTEIN: When It Comes to Social Media, Can We Put the Genie Back in the Bottle?

Regarding kids and their phones, I find myself asking, “Can we put the genie back in the bottle?” Of course, the answer is no.

But here I was, at a Bar Mitzvah, and I noticed a boy, 12 years old, riding my 3-year-old granddaughter’s tricycle in the corridor. This was obviously a bad idea on many levels. The tricycle could break. He should be attending the service. And if he wanted to kill time, why ride a toddler’s tricycle? I asked him this question, and he replied, “They took my phone away. I’m bored.”

Upon glancing through a window, I noticed a football on the ground. I suggested he throw some leather and pointed to the football. He shot back, “I don’t like throwing footballs. I just want my phone.” 

At least he agreed to no longer ride the tricycle.

This brief episode had me wondering whether kids have lost their ability to play without technology. Also, what role did the cellphone and the larger landscape of social media play in shaping our children’s interactions with their physical world?

In investigating how this Pandora’s box opened, I learned the following: In the late 1970s, computer hobbyists became enthralled with a brave new promise of technology. Using homemade computers and dial-up modems, they began to form communities and share information. Energy and big dreams emerged.

CompuServe observed the excitement and, in 1979, responded with time-sharing services. Paying by the minute, customers could access weather, news and other information online. Even better, they could “chat” online in real-time.

The advent of chatting laid the groundwork for a less innocent online era. Using CompuServe, messaging became popular. Enter AOL, which made dial-up computing easy and introduced breakthrough Instant Messenger (IM). It also offered a better interface and a flat-fee model. AOL’s dominance culminated in 1998 when it acquired CompuServe.

By the early 2000s, kids were using IM and creating “buddy lists.” A new social order emerged, and parents were left in the dark. I floated a book proposal to educate parents on IM language and assorted behaviors. Publishers thought “IM Savvy” was a silly idea. It felt like much ado about nothing, and children were supposed to learn our language.

Soon, MySpace entered the market and added pop culture — music and video — from around the globe. Social media was now in full bloom, and “influencers” were thriving. MySpace eventually lost to Facebook, which entered the market in 2004. Facebook perfected friending with better software and no pop-up ads.

Social media’s more ominous underbelly began to unfold with each successive company. In 2011, Snapchat emerged with the new twist of disappearing messages and no paper trail.

Snapchat’s transience induced users to keep clicking, raising addiction risks. In 2016, TikTok entered with short, catchy videos and a new meaning to the word “viral.”

Consider this. By 2022, TikTok had more than 3 billion downloads and more than 1 billion active users monthly. But the most haunting statistic? Sixty-seven percent of U.S. teens 13 to 17 use TikTok.

Particularly disconcerting, TikTok hypes challenges bound for viral stardom. These have included the well-meaning ALS ice-bucket challenge and harmful challenges such as the “blackout,” where kids choke themselves, and the “skull-breaker,” where kids jump in a way that puts one kid at risk.

The unintended consequences of the social media genie have long been recognized. Reduced attention spans, anxiety, depression, diminished social skills, and physical risks from participating in dangerous challenges are among the concerns making the news many times over.

Ironically, Justin Rosenstein, who invented Facebook’s “like” button, deleted the app, as he explained to the Independent, because he felt it was too addictive.

We all have wondered whether there is anything we can do to change social media into a more positive force. We could emulate Seinfeld and pretend social media is all about nothing, but we know too much. We’ve witnessed the effect of kids tethered to their phones. We have 12-year-old boys riding tricycles out of boredom.

We could cheer the fact that TikTok will likely be banned in the United States. Still, nature abhors a vacuum, and there will be a replacement technology.

Maybe that’s our opportunity.

We can become influencers and demand TikTok’s successor be “kid-safe.” We know the genie is not going back, but maybe we can shape the bottle to contain its effect.

Here is to hoping.

Football anyone?

ECKER: Stop exploitation of child social media influencers

Pennsylvania’s Child Labor Law exists to protect children, their labor, and their earnings from being exploited and I believe that the protections of our Child Labor Law should apply to child influencers on social media.

I am introducing legislation to update our Child Labor Laws to do just that.

Americans are well accustomed to childhood celebrities, and we are equally aware of the many stories of children whose families have become broken and their futures made difficult because the people who should have been looking out for them were exploiting them.

From River Phoenix to Amanda Bynes and Macauly Culkin, the career and life burnout of childhood celebrities is an all-too-familiar tale in our country.

The presence of children making content on social media and earning income from product endorsements, advertisements, and merchandising has become equally ubiquitous in our society.

From social media channels like Vlad and Niki to Ryan’s World, children on YouTube and other social media channels have millions of subscribers and are making millions of dollars. In fact, for Vlad and Niki, their family operates 21 YouTube channels in 18 different languages and their yearly earnings top $64 million.

While I am normally one who believes that government should stay out of private enterprise, I also firmly believe that government does have a role to play in protecting children, especially when their labor may be exploited, their earnings taken, and their futures put into jeopardy.

As a member of the Pennsylvania General Assembly who is active on social media, and the father of young children, I know there is a fine line between inclusion and exploitation.

While children at home may enjoy watching a 15-minute YouTube video with their favorite child influencer, what we do not know is how long those videos took produce, under what conditions they were made, and whether or not the children themselves are willing participants in the activity.

If mainstream media creation is any clue, it often takes several takes to get one portion of a show or movie correct, hours of rehearsal, and then editing and reshoots.

Highly produced content creation videos and influencer material are likely not less rigorous.

On top of that, many of these creators then branch out into other ways to make money with their millions of subscribers. From product endorsements to merchandising, the work of children is being used to make money for not only themselves, but countless other individuals.

Without an understanding of the consequences, children are having their name, image, and likeness endorse products and sell merchandise to an extent they may never be aware.

That is why I am introducing legislation to put guardrails on working conditions and conduct of child influencers and content creators.

Among other things, when introduced my legislation will protect children who earn money as influencers and content-makers, or whose likeness, name or photograph is substantially featured in a parent or guardian’s content. These protections include requiring that parents set aside a portion of the gross earnings earned from such content.

Similar legislation has been introduced and/or enacted in other states as lawmakers across the country have seen the need to step in and ensure children who earn money as influencers are not taken advantage of.

The bottom line here is that children should not be exploited. And both their childhoods and their work should be protected from unscrupulous individuals who want to take advantage of their celebrity and subject them to onerous working conditions while not being sound stewards of their earnings.

It is my hope that legislation I will soon introduce to protect child influencers and content creators with Pennsylvania’s Child Labor Law will receive wide bipartisan support and fair consideration in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

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SOLOMON: Will Courts Hold Facebook Liable for Kids’ Anorexia?

In July, two families in Kentucky filed lawsuits against Instagram (whose parent company is Meta, which all of us still think of as Facebook), seeking to hold the company responsible for their daughters’ eating disorders and mental illnesses. This is the tip of a massive iceberg, as in more than 80 current lawsuits, parents are claiming that Facebook and other social media platforms are causing their children irreparable harm.

As these cases continue to pile up, they come as no surprise to those who have closely followed the legal woes of these social media companies. Over the past few years, Facebook has faced a barrage of lawsuits alleging that it failed to protect minors from sexual predators and cyberbullies.

The current lawsuits follow in the steps of an earlier round, filed in 2016 by a coalition of consumer groups and public interest organizations who alleged that Facebook’s policies violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). These suits, which were consolidated into one federal case currently pending before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, all sought class-action status for millions of minors whom they allege suffered emotional distress as a result of their interactions with other children on Facebook or Instagram

In 2017, Facebook was sued in Illinois by the parents of a 14-year-old girl who allegedly died by suicide after being cyber-bullied on the social media platform. The suit, which also named Instagram and the alleged bullies as defendants, claimed that Facebook failed to implement safeguards to protect children from online violence. In seeking $100 million in damages for their daughter’s death, the parents argue that if Facebook had done more to prevent bullying on its platforms and remove offensive content when reported by users or other third parties (such as school authorities), then perhaps their daughter would still be alive today.

In 2018, two other suits were filed in California alleging that Facebook knowingly allowed minors to access its platforms and failed to protect them. One of those cases involved a 13-year-old girl who says she was bullied through Instagram and then sexually assaulted by an adult male. She says that after she reported the incident, Instagram failed to remove the photos posted by her assaulter. In California, minors can sue in civil court without their parents’ permission if they have suffered harm as a result of another’s negligence or carelessness, but only if they’re seeking damages for personal injury. The girls’ lawyers argue that their clients’ suffering qualifies as such an injury because it caused “severe emotional distress.”

Whether Facebook is held liable for a case of anorexia is less important than the collective opening of a very powerful door for families who are filing these lawsuits.

Kila Baldwin, a Philadelphia-based catastrophic injury lawyer who is very familiar with these types of cases, shared a poignant observation with me:

“The collective weight of these ongoing suits bears heavily on the backs of social media companies, which need to individually and collectively appreciate that their platforms, which they often argue were designed to change lives for the better, can also destroy them.”

One thing is eminently clear: These claims aren’t going away anytime soon, nor are other potential legal challenges involving kids’ use of social media platforms. These social media companies have no viable option moving forward than to hold themselves to a higher standard.

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Sen. Muth Hit With Ethics Complaint Over Social Media

Jessica Florio, the Republican candidate running against state Sen. Katie Muth, has filed an ethics complaint against the incumbent Democrat alleging misuse of her official state social media account.

Muth (D-Berks/Chester/Montgomery) sent tweets on her official taxpayer-funded account to organizations and individuals that appear to be related to campaigns for other Democrats, rather than official communications with constituents. For example, she used her official account to forward a tweet from Robert Zeigler, who is running against GOP House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff.



Zeigler describes himself as the “progressive, working-class candidate for PA State House to represent the 171st district.”

Muth also re-tweeted at least two messages from the far-Left activist group

Muth has since removed her retweet of the tweet.

“Clearly, Sen. Katie Muth believes the rules do not apply to her,” Pennsylvania Senate Republican Campaign Committee Communications Director Michael Straw said. “As a senator, she is entitled to utilize her taxpayer-funded social media accounts to spread her own radical opinions and bad policy positions. However, Sen. Muth crossed the line on June 29 and June 30 when she used her official social media account to prop up fellow Democrat campaigns on the taxpayer dime. Pennsylvanians send their hard-earned tax dollars to Harrisburg to improve infrastructure, fund our schools, and keep our streets safe, not to prop up Muth and her radical allies. Katie Muth knows better, and the people of Pennsylvania deserve better.”

Jessica Florio

Muth did not respond to a request for comment.

The Florio campaign released this statement: “Sen. Muth, who refers to the State Capitol as the ‘Dome of Corruption,’ is always quick to point out when someone doesn’t follow the rules, and she should be held to the same standard. There is a long list of elected officials who have resigned, and in some cases been charged, for having staff members do campaign work during official hours.

“The complaint is not so much about the result as it is about the message: if you are going to accuse others of wrongdoing and ethical violations, you should make sure your own house is in order.  The purpose of this complaint is to stick up for the taxpayers of the 44th Senate District; something Sen. Muth struggles to do time and again,” the campaign stated.

Muth was elected to the Senate in 2018 and holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in athletic training. A Royersford resident, she got her start in politics through Indivisible Mid Montco, a progressive grassroots action network.

According to her website, Muth is “focused on helping those struggling to find affordable health care, ensuring equal pay for equal work, promoting a livable wage and paid family medical leave. In addition, the senator is focused on aiding students who are overburdened by heavy student loans.”

Florio served as president of the Honey Brook Borough Council, chair of the Route 322 Transportation Committee, and served as president of the Honey Brook Community Library Board of Trustees.

A teacher for 15 years, Florio has worked as a special education teacher for 12 years.

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YouTube Reinstates Pennsylvania Republican Governor Candidates Forum

YouTube has admitted it made a mistake when it pulled the video of a  Republican gubernatorial candidates’ forum sponsored by the Pennsylvania Family Institute and held recently at Cairn University in Langhorne.

“When it’s brought to our attention that a video has been removed mistakenly, we act quickly to reinstate it. We also offer the uploader the ability to appeal removals, and upon review of the Pennsylvania Family Council’s appeal, we reinstated this video,” said Ivy Choi, a spokeswoman for YouTube.

Michael Geer, president and CEO of the Institute, is happy the video is back up but says is also disturbed it was removed in the first place and remained missing for three days.

Geer says he believes public pressure from the Delaware Valley Journal and other sources may have helped sway YouTube. But, he noted, social media such as YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook have become the public square and speech exercised there should fall under First Amendment protections, even though the entities are owned by private companies.

“The marketplace of ideas has shifted to the social media realm,” said Geer. “And social media companies have a special relationship with the government. The government is providing a special framework for them to operate. And if they didn’t provide the level of freedom and First Amendment accountability, something should be done.”

As it is now, social media platforms have “the unfettered ability to take things down that they don’t like.”

“We’re grateful to the candidates, who put it out there in press releases and social media comments, as well as the wrongness of what YouTube did. I think the public outcry and folks like you reporting on it, bringing attention to it, were all very helpful in the restoration of the video.”

Linda Kerns, a Philadelphia lawyer who handles election law cases, said, “I attended the Republican gubernatorial debate and heard a robust discussion of conservative ideas to fix this commonwealth after we have endured the failed policies of a Democrat administration. I imagine the woke ideologues at YouTube realized if people hear what Republicans have to say….they will never vote for a Democrat again. So their answer is censorship.  Thank heavens for Rich Zeoli who publicized this travesty on his radio show and outlets like DVJournal…who write about it.”

Dave White, one of the gubernatorial candidates who participated in the forum, denounced YouTube’s move as “another example of the leftists in Big Tech trying to silence conservatives, specifically traditional values conservatives. Apparently, standing up for the sanctity of human life and defending the rights of young girls who want to play sports is out of bounds for YouTube.”

His fellow GOP candidate Charlie Gerow said it was “an outrage. As soon as they did it, I spoke out forcefully against their attack on free speech. Attempting to silence the voices of the Republican candidates is yet another example of the cancel culture that is ripping us apart.”

At a debate Tuesday night sponsored by the Delaware Valley Journal, Republican candidates for U.S. Senate weighed in.

“The overwhelming majority of our [exercise of] free speech, which is a constitutional right, takes place on social media. So for tech companies to be able to tell people, ‘Shut up, sit down, and do as you’re told,’ doesn’t cut it. We need to be very firm on that,” said Kathy Barnette, a Fox News commentator.

But lawyer Sean Gale was not sure it would be wise for the government to intervene. However, he decried the hypocrisy of companies like Twitter, which banned President Donald Trump.

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Senate Candidate Dr. Oz Decries Facebook Censorship

Dr. Oz is off Facebook, and he says it’s censorship.

Even before Facebook and Twitter nuked former President Donald Trump’s accounts, there were instances of Big Tech censoring conservatives, Republicans, and right-leaning media outlets.

A case in point is the New York Post’s bombshell report about Hunter Biden’s salacious laptop, which was suppressed by Twitter before the Nov. 2020 presidential election. Later, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey admitted the social media company should not have censored that article, but the damage was done. Facebook also put restrictions on the news article, whose accuracy has never been challenged or disproven.

Now, as celebrity Dr. Mehmet Oz enters the 2022 Republican race for the Pennsylvania Senate seat being vacated by GOP Sen. Pat Toomey, he is accusing Facebook of returning to its old tricks.

“I just got some disturbing news,” Oz said in a press release on Tuesday. “Facebook has restricted my account – and is not letting me advertise to you. It could hurt the momentum that we’ve been building with this campaign. Now, we’ve asked them what’s going on and they say they’re looking into it, but it’s been more than 24 hours. I need to get my conservative messages out. They matter.

“I don’t want big tech putting their thumb on the scale to shift the balance of power here,” said Oz. “You need to learn about strong families and how to protect your individual freedoms. We’re not going to be canceled. We won’t be censored. We won’t be shut down.”

Oz spokeesman Casey Contres said, “Big Tech and the political establishment are trying to stop Dr. Oz’s campaign to empower Pennsylvanians, but it is not going to work. We are seeing incredible energy and enthusiasm at every stop and that will only continue to grow.”

Oz, a cardiothoracic surgeon and star of the television show, “Dr. Oz,” has entered a crowded field. It includes Republicans Montgomery County businessman Jeff Bartos, author and television commentator Kathy Barnette, Sean Gale, a Montgomery County lawyer, and Carla Sands, who served as ambassador to Denmark for President Trump. Democrats include doctors Val Arkoosh, chair of the Montgomery County commissioners, and Kevin Baumlin, a Philadelphia ER doctor; U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb; Lt. Gov. John Fetterman; and state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (D-Philadelphia).

Libertarian Erik Gerhardt is also a candidate.

Facebook, meanwhile, did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding Oz’s complaint.


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FLOWERS: Running Afoul of Arbitrary Facebook Formulas

I’m used to being suspended by social media. I have a fairly colorful way of expressing myself, which is attributable to my Irish-Italian pit bull lineage. But I’m also a lawyer, which means I have some passing understanding of how to carefully parse words and phrases so that I can insult you without actually insulting you, I can attack without visibly drawing blood, I can tread that filament of space between cheeky and defamatory.

But these days, we don’t deal in nuance. In fact, social media has become so obsessed with politically correct expression and sanitized thought that if there is even the suspicion of someone saying something that goes against conventional wisdom or accepted societal rules, they are virtually arrested, virtually charged, virtually tried and virtually convicted before you can upload a new profile picture.

This is what happened to me the other day when I posted something that I thought was funny and fairly innocuous in terms of its social impact. I’d been involved the night before in an unpleasant exchange with a woman in a pizza shop. She had a mask on and was choosing which slice of upscale designer focaccia she wanted to bring home to her Rittenhouse Square penthouse. At the end of the counter was a man, mask dangling from his ear, waiting for his own order to be warmed up and sipping on an espresso.  Here is how I described what happened next:

“From the right of me I hear, “Put on your mask.” I knew the comment wasn’t directed at me because I was already wearing the ineffective, butterfly-wing-thin piece of paper on my nose and mouth, something I call my Bocca Burqa, so that I could access the restaurant.

I looked around and realized that the woman was talking to the man who was waiting for his order, his own mask dangling from one ear as he sipped an espresso at the bar. He was more than 6 feet away from her.

The man said “Mind your own business, lady.” I would have been even less polite, so I gave him points. The woman, blessed with the flaming red hair her ancestors never had and struggling to mobilize cryogenically-frozen mouth muscles screamed (and I mean screamed) “Put your mask on you fat ass.”

The man was overweight, but I was always taught that you can only safely criticize the weight of blood relatives and Rosie O’Donnell, so I was shocked. The man replied in kind, saying “Shut up, bitch.”

And she gathered all of her powers of indignation and fury and launched the most scathing, deadly, hurtful thing she could come up with: “Fuc$ing Trump voter. I hope you die, but don’t you kill me!”

And then his order arrived and he went to a corner table to eat.

I was still in shock. I was debating whether to say anything when the woman told the cashier: “I live here and I’m not going to let that animal make me sick.”

And that did it. I said, “Ma’am, that was completely wrong. I’m wearing a mask. I’m vaccinated. But you are out of line. Did you have to be insulting? Calling him fat? And really? Trump? Last time I checked, Biden is president.”

She looked taken aback that someone who was superficially a fellow traveler (female, mask wearer, wearing animal print accessories) was criticizing her. But she rebounded quickly. “He’s a fat, ignorant anti-science Trumper.”

At that point the manager came to the register and looked at me and said, “Please, can you stop raising your voices and making a scene?”

And that’s when Joan of Arch Street emerged and said, pointing like Emile Zola in “J’accuse!”

“It was THAT woman. Her. She started it when she insulted that man (waving an accusatory finger at the embarrassed male diner). She called him fat. She called him a Trump voter. She is at fault.”

And then I looked at the manager and said, “I don’t need your pizza that badly. I need to be more than 6 feet away from HER.” (Accusatory finger shifts back to Redhead, who was as naturally Red as a California Redwood) and then I stormed out of the pizzeria.

As I trudged home, sans pizza and umbrella but with conviction, I realized that I do not want to be within 6 feet of anyone who makes masks and vaccines the hallmark of their humanity.”

That was the entire content of my post, give or take a few emojis.  It got a few thumbs up, lots of clicks, and I also shared it in a private Facebook group I belong to. Private groups are just that, private. Only those who have access to the group can see the posts, and I’m pretty sure that no one in this group objected to my post.

But lo and behold, I get a notice from Facebook that I was being suspended for three days because my post had “violated Community standards” by spreading “misinformation” about masks and vaccines.  That’s exactly what it said. I re-read my post, and while it did appear a bit cutting, particularly the comments about the lady’s flaming hair, I couldn’t find anything in it that disseminated false facts.  It was pure opinion, albeit snarky in tone (is there any other tone?)

Ironically, hours after I was told that I’d been put in Facebook Siberia, they took off my ankle bracelet and I was released. There was no warning nor explanation, I  just woke up the next morning and was able to post like a normal human being.  It wasn’t exactly Alexander Solzhenitsyn getting out of the Archipelago Zuckerberg, but it was rather momentous.  Apparently, my appeal to the Facebook gods had been reviewed and approved.

But I’m not celebrating. The fact that something I posted in a private social media group caught the attention of someone with Stasi propensities, and a knee-jerk decision was made based on partisan assumptions, is appalling.  The fact that an opinion was considered “dangerous” is Kafkaesque. The fact that making fun of a woman who was making fun of a man violates “Community standards” and we have no idea what those standards are really troubles me. It should trouble all of us.

Whatever your opinions on masks or vaccines or abortion or election fraud or Chris Cuomo or Larry Krasner, they’re your opinions. Opinions are not dangerous. You know what is, though?

Not being able to have them.



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PA Teacher Asks Republicans to Shoot Unvaxxed Constituents

A 9th grade English teacher, who is a member of the board of the National Education Association, posted a disturbing rant on social media blasting people who have not gotten vaccinated and saying, “I don’t know why the GOP doesn’t just take those guns they profess to love so much and start shooting all of their constituents who think this way.”

“It would be quicker and ultimately safer than putting me and my friends and family at risk,” said Mollie Paige Mumau, who teaches at General McLane High School in Edinboro, Pennsylvania.

“Screw this guy and screw them all who are all about hiding behind religious exemptions because they don’t want anybody to tell them what to do. People tell you what to do all the time and you do it. This is such BS,” said Mumau in her post. “He and his ilk deserve whatever comes their way, including losing jobs, getting sick and perhaps dying from the virus. But in the meantime, he’s going to put all the people around him in danger.”

Neither Mumau nor the NEA responded to a request for comment.

“The district is aware of a potentially inappropriate social media comment by a staff member. The district will investigate the matter and act accordingly. In all situations, the district’s utmost concern is the safety of our students and staff,” said Sarah Grabski, director of communications and administrative services for the General McLane School District.

Grabski confirmed that Mumau is an employee, but “she is not in our buildings today. We are not legally permitted to share any additional information about personnel actions or consequences at this time.”

Some candidates were appalled by Mumau’s post.

“The teacher should be fired. More importantly, this anti-science, partisan hate has no place in America—especially, someone entrusted with educating our children. We expect teachers to lead and nurture—not preach hate, division and violence,” said Guy Ciarrocchi, a Republican candidate for governor. He is on leave from his position as president of the Chester County Chamber of Business and Industry.

“The General McLane School District should take immediate action to fire her,” said Charlie Gerow, a Republican strategist and gubernatorial candidate. “We can’t have someone like her teaching our kids.  This is an outrageous rant from a delusional and angry teacher.”

Former Republican Congressman Lou Barletta, who is running for governor, said, “This just shows the shocking contempt that the bureaucracy has for the rights of students and parents. The government shouldn’t be ordering people to take the vaccine, when it should be their own personal medical decision. And parents should be in charge of medical decisions for their own children, not the government.

“This also highlights the fact that Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro is in court right now to continue forcing kids to wear masks in school,” said Barletta. “These ought to be parental decisions because we know that kids are less susceptible to the virus than adults. It’s just common sense, which sadly seems to be in short supply these days.”

Shapiro did not respond to a request to comment for this article.

Myron Goldman, a retired Philadelphia School District math teacher and the GOP chairman for Cheltenham, said, “Such a comment, assuming it is accurate, would be horrible for anyone to utter, but for a teacher to state such hate, calls into question this person’s fitness to teach children.

I would expect the board of the teacher’s district to react.  On the other hand, if accurate, the statement would demonstrate the teacher’s belief that any attack on Republicans, no matter how vile or violent, is acceptable.  I wonder if she has a ‘Hate has no home here’ sign on her lawn.”


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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.”