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TRACY: The Inquirer Editorial Board’s Ongoing War With the Facts at the Central Bucks School District

This op-ed first appeared in Broad + Liberty.

The Inquirer editorial board is at it again.

Last December, the ACLU filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education alleging a hostile environment for LGBT youth at the Central Bucks School District (CBSD) and the editorial board eagerly lapped up every accusation, treating them as settled facts in an attempt to foment anger at the recently elected conservative majority on the school board. We called them out on this one-sided rush to judgment, noting the irony that a publication called the Inquirer did not appear to have any interest in actual inquiry.

We now know that the facts do not support the ACLU’s over-hyped allegations against the school district. An independent investigation by the Duane Morris law firm concluded that there was no evidence to support the allegations that the District was awash in anti-LGBT bullying, harassment or discrimination. The firm’s detailed, 147-page report and accompanying exhibits are available on the district’s website for the world to see. The report took a deep dive into the evidence, including interviews of witnesses from each of the district’s 23 schools, tens of thousands of documents, and voluminous electronic records and emails.

But the Inquirer’s editorial board is not one to let the facts get in the way of waging their ideological crusade against one of the top performing public school districts in the commonwealth.

Its latest target is Central Bucks Superintendent Abram Lucabaugh.

At the end of July, the school board raised Dr. Lucabaugh’s annual salary from $229,500 to $315,000. While this is undoubtedly a significant increase — one that the school board must justify to its constituents in an election year — the editorial board gratuitously sounded the alarm, claiming that the increase was out of step with similarly situated superintendents and merely a donation granted to Dr. Lucabaugh by local Republicans for supporting an “extreme political agenda.” At Broad + Liberty, we give the Central Bucks taxpayers a bit more credit than that.

The CBSD is one of the largest in the state and at or near the top of any state educational ranking. At his previous salary, Dr. Lucabaugh was paid significantly less than several other superintendents in suburban Philadelphia who oversee much smaller districts. For example, John Sanville of the Unionville-Chadds Ford District makes nearly $300,000 and Dusty Blakey at Kennett Consolidated School District makes more than $250,000. Both districts are less than a quarter the size of CBSD.

Had the editorial board conducted even a cursory review of superintendent salaries across the region, they would have been compelled to conclude that  Dr. Lucabaugh’s pay raise brings him in line with the market.

Additionally, Dr. Lucabaugh recently proposed comprehensive systematic changes that will have a significant impact on students across the district. The Inquirer never bothered to report the fact that the superintendent developed a plan to implement full day kindergarten next year. They failed to give him credit for redesigning the middle and high schools to reflect best practices for teaching, learning, socialization, and athletics. Dr. Lucabaugh’s efforts demonstrate he is an insightful and competent superintendent.

But let’s be honest, the pay raise is not the reason for attracting the ire of an editorial board that is rarely concerned with excessive government spending. Dr. Lucabaugh’s real crime is carrying out what they call an “extreme political agenda.”

How extreme? As superintendent, he has had the temerity to support policies that require classrooms to be politically neutral, where children are taught how to think instead of what to think; policies that require parent or guardian consent to change a student’s name or gender pronouns, so that children cannot be socially transitioned or renamed without the support of their families, or even against their parents’ wishes; and policies limiting sexually explicit content in elementary and middle school libraries. These are reasonable, legal policies supported by the majority of the community. And they were adopted by a duly elected school board.

It is that last point the ACLU and editorial board activists find so galling. Instead of accepting the results of the 2021 Central Bucks School Board election that gave conservatives a 6-3 majority, the editorial board contorts the facts to advance a demonstrably false narrative that, sadly, leverages vulnerable children for political gain. Standing in the way of this false narrative is the Duane Morris report, which includes a well-reasoned, substantive, exhaustive examination of district policies, practices, and outcomes. The editorial board barely acknowledges the report’s existence, labeling it “essentially a whitewash.”

Upon reading their editorial, it is transparently obvious that they have not even read the report. I have read the report. And I encourage them to challenge their own ideological assumptions just once by reading the report. They might learn something.

Their editorial astonishingly claims that “a popular teacher was suspended after he advocated on behalf of LGBT students who were getting harassed and bullied.” That teacher was Lenape Middle School teacher Andrew Burgess. As the report makes plain – based on Burgess’ own sworn testimony, emails, chat messages, and other documents discovered on his school laptop – Burgess repeatedly violated district policy by hiding alleged bullying from school administrators in a subversive scheme designed to embarrass school directors with whom he disagreed politically. Instead of working  on behalf of LGBT students, Burgess had the audacity to endanger them. Leaving this out of their editorial is gross journalistic malpractice — a lie of omission.

The editorial also accuses the report of being one-sided because the investigators did not “speak to any students who alleged bullying.” Again, as the Duane Morris investigators made clear in their public presentation of the report, investigators were not at liberty to contact students directly for an interview. Instead, they were required to contact parents or guardians and ask permission. The investigators did so, contacting the families of the plaintiffs in the ACLU’s complaint, as well as the families of other LGBT students who had interacted with school administrators or spoken at school board meetings. Indeed, the ACLU’s intransigence made identifying those who alleged bullying unnecessarily difficult by hiding their identities and redacting a significant majority of the ACLU’s complaint to the U.S. Department of Education.

Initially, several of the plaintiff families expressed interest in speaking with investigators. But once the ACLU found out about the investigators’ offer, the ACLU stepped in and prevented the families from sitting for interviews. Nevertheless, the investigators interviewed several parents of LGBT students, including the mother of the student who filed the lone Title IX complaint with the school district in the last three years that alleged sexual orientation-based discrimination. She was pleased with the District’s handling of the complaint, calling it “sensible and helpfully specific.” Investigators also interviewed several self-described allies of the LGBT community, including moderators of LGBT-themed student clubs, guidance counselors, teachers and community members.

A “whitewash” this investigation was not.

Finally, no Inquirer editorial board commentary about CBSD would be complete without a gratuitous swipe at the lead investigator, former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain. McSwain is a well-respected Yale and Harvard-trained lawyer, former Marine Corps infantry officer, and former federal prosecutor who has dedicated much of his career to public service. McSwain’s crime? As U.S. Attorney, he dared to challenge progressive orthodoxy, exposing the dangerous and destructive criminal justice policies of Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, a favorite of the Inquirer editorial board.

The first step to recovery is admitting that you have a problem. The editorial board’s addiction to a painfully narrow-minded narrative and blatant disregard of the facts is a problem for all of us. Their analysis of the major issues facing our region is profoundly flawed simply because it is derived from a world that does not exist. A useful first step is to encourage the editorial board to abandon its war with the facts in the CBSD, but perhaps something more drastic is needed.

We at Broad + Liberty would love to engage directly with the Inquirer editorial board to make sure the public learns the full truth about what’s happening in Central Bucks. Let’s have a public debate — the people can hear a robust airing of all the facts and concomitant analyses and figure out what they do and do not support for themselves.

When our Fourth Estate — a free press — functions as it ought to, our democracy is strengthened. Their fact-free crusade against the Central Bucks School Board suggests that reality may be what the Inquirer editorial board fears most. I sincerely encourage them to take us up on this offer, but in the meantime we will keep giving voice to issues, ideas, and facts that have been shut out of our public discourse for long enough.

Local Media Outlets Cover Bucks Co. School Board From an ‘Anti-LGBT’ Angle, But Reporters Frequently Ignore Board’s Perspective

This article firt appeared in Broad + Liberty

Readers of news in southeast Pennsylvania may be under the impression that “anti-LGBT” hate pervades the newly flipped Central Bucks School District, but the district isn’t being helped at all by local media determined not to include the district’s explanations and defenses of its policies.

On at least five occasions, two prominent news outlets in the region have published articles casting the current board in the Central Bucks School District in a negative light on socially divisive issues, but the articles contained scant reference — or no reference whatsoever — to the district’s position or reaction to events.

A Broad + Liberty review of numerous articles about the district identified two articles by WHYY’s Emily Rizzo and two articles by Bucks County Courier Times reporter Chris Ullery in which there was no attempt at all by the journalists to contemporaneously portray or describe the district’s point of view. One additional article by Rizzo did present part of the district’s point of view, but only quoted the board president for a total of four words, effectively negating the emotional plea she made at a board hearing.

For the five stories analyzed here, CBSD Board President Dana Hunter said the district was not contacted for comment. Rizzo, and Ullery’s employer, Gannet, dispute that conclusion and defended their work as fair.

STORY 1: ‘These are human rights issues’: Pa. school board directors condemn Central Bucks for apparent anti-LGBTQ actions

This February story focused on a letter authored by 52 school board members from other districts condemning many of the policies and actions of the CBSD, whose board was won by a conservative majority after the November 2021 elections.

Rizzo’s story quoted the letter at length, and also quoted two of the letter’s signers. The story did not, however, present any response from the district, nor did it attempt to present or paraphrase any of the previous arguments the board had put forward in the ongoing debate over its policies.

The sentence familiar to all news consumers — “A request for comment was not returned.” — does not appear anywhere in the story.

A Broad + Liberty analysis of the letter signatories cross-referenced with Pennsylvania voter rolls shows at least 50 of the 52 signatories are Democrats. The party affiliation of one could not be determined. One person who signed the letter, Diana Stitt, is not on a school board, having lost her election in 2021.

Rizzo ignored a pointed question as to whether she tried to determine any significant partisan leaning from the group who signed the letter.

One board member from a neighboring district said the letter’s curators probably knew to be cautious in whom to approach.

“As one of 2 Republican members of the school board at Owen J. Roberts, I was not approached regarding this letter. I learned about it from a news article and saw that one of our members signed it,” she said. “I have no idea who was approached regarding this letter, but I assumed that it was a Democratic initiative and as a known conservative, the organizers would know better than to approach me.”

Broad + Liberty reached out to 51 of the letter signatories to verify our party-affiliation analysis. Efforts to reach Stitt were unsuccessful.

STORY 2: Central Bucks asks ACLU to reveal the LGBTQ students behind its federal complaint. ACLU says they fear retaliation

One of the most consequential moments of the new board’s tenure came in October when the ACLU of Pennsylvania unveiled a 72-page complaint — 27 whole pages of which were redacted — it filed with the U.S. Department of Education alleging that the CBSD had created a discriminatory atmosphere, especially with regards to gay and transgender students.

Rizzo’s story two days later noted that CBSD Board President Dana Hunter asked the ACLU for an unredacted version of the report so that it could investigate and appropriately deal with any instances of bullying.

Rizzo wrote that Hunter, “said the anonymous nature makes it ‘impossible’ for the district to ‘intervene.’”

Using that selectivity, Rizzo quoted a total of four words from CBSD Board President Dana Hunter, while quoting two persons from the ACLU more than thirty times that amount.

Despite having a full day between the board meeting and publishing her story, Rizzo would not or could not pull a quote from Hunter about her plea for help so that the district could address any problems of bullying or other problems of discrimination.

For example, Hunter said, “The anonymous and hidden nature of this information makes it impossible for our administrators, school counselors, and teachers to do the critical work of connecting with these unnamed individuals to intervene and address any possible bullying or problematic situations.”

“Please, if you are a student experiencing bullying or a family member who is concerned that your student is the target of discrimination or harassment of any kind, please come to your building principal, to your teachers, to anyone of our administrators, so that we can work together to support you and rectify the situation,” Hunter added.

Rizzo and her editors did not answer a direct question about why her story quoted Hunter so selectively and without context, as opposed to sharing longer portions of her statement.

The article seemed to imply that Hunter and the district wanted an unredacted version of the ACLU report to be released to the public at large, which Hunter says is not the case.

“The request was that the information be provided to administration so that the allegations could be investigated,” Hunter explained. “These are allegations against our teachers and staff. If there are children being bullied or harassed and it isn’t being handled properly, our administrators need to know so that it is properly addressed and children are protected.”

While Hunter’s remarks at the October meeting did not clearly express that the board hoped only for a private and confidential copy of the ACLU report, Rizzo’s reporting also did not resolve that ambiguity.

STORY 3: Student protesters threatened, while a new policy to censor library books looms in Central Bucks School District

The report from May led with the fact that an undisclosed number of students protested in support of teacher Andrew Burgess, whose leave of absence has been a topic of intense speculation and debate.

The district’s response is not provided, and Rizzo did not indicate she tried to get it.

This was the only story in which Rizzo gave specifics in her defense (her whole response provided further in the story), saying that the district failed to reply to two emails requesting comment. The story makes no mention of the outreach, or the district’s failure to respond.

STORY 4: CB teachers concerned about risk to students vow to defy transgender policy. ‘We’re not doing it’

In November, Ullery reported that a handful of teachers in the district planned to defy a district guide on which names to use for students.

The 1,400-word article did present prior arguments made by Superintendent Abram Lucabaugh, but the article also does not indicate if Ullery made any effort to obtain a contemporary quote from the district.

STORY 5: Central Bucks School District teachers walk out of meetings over new policy

An Ullery report from January summarized an incident where teachers walked out of class in protest of Policy 321, which bans teachers from displaying political flags or other paraphernalia in the classroom unless the flags or materials are related to the curriculum.

The policy is widely characterized in the media as “banning Pride flags,” — especially in headlines — but media characterizations rarely add that the policy also bans Trump flags, Thin Blue Line flags supporting law enforcement, and even the Confederate battle flag, unless the flags are related to curriculum, according to Hunter.

Ullery’s story quoted Superintendent Lucabaugh, but only from an email leaked to Ullery by the discontented teachers. Nothing in the story indicates if Ullery made a contemporary effort to obtain further comment from the district on the Lucabaugh email, or on the walkout.


Hunter says the district did reach out to WHYY and Rizzo last year to discuss concerns the district had about the reporting, a not uncommon move by elected officials or governments who feel reporting does not provide sufficient balance or factual accuracy.

“Based on Emily Rizzo’s words and actions, it does not appear that she has interest in providing accurate or balanced information,” Hunter told Broad + Liberty. “The communications team did have more than one conversation with her about this on our behalf. The coverage of the district did not change.”

If Rizzo and Ullery did not reach out to obtain contemporary comment from the district as Hunter alleges, the actions would run counter to the published ethical guidelines set forward by each outlet’s parent news organization.

WHYY is a taxpayer-funded affiliate of National Public Radio whose ethical guide states, “We strive to give our audience confidence that all sides have been considered and represented fairly.”

The Bucks County Courier Times is owned by Gannett News, whose ethical reporting guide says, “We will strive to include all sides relevant to a story and not take sides in news coverage.”

In response to a detailed list of questions, Rizzo said, “I’ve reached out to school district leaders and stakeholders throughout my reporting and will continue to do so. For the story dated May 14, 2022, I reached out to the school district asking for a response to the allegations, as I do always. In two separate emails, the district gave me no reply.”

“I will continue to report on the Central Bucks School District developments with fairness and accuracy,” she concluded.

“The Bucks County Courier Times strives to include all relevant sides in our reporting,” said Danielle Camilli, editor of the Bucks County Courier Times and the Intelligencer. “We have provided the district with an opportunity to comment on the new policy and the ongoing issues being raised by faculty and students. Throughout the course of our reporting we will continue to be fair, accurate, complete, and unbiased in our coverage.”

Even when the board majority has had the opportunity to directly communicate its own thoughts and ideas, as it did in a January editorial in the Inquirer, the board says it has been left feeling snake-bitten.

When the six members of the “majority” authored the editorial in defense of some of its policies, the Inquirer headlined the piece, “We voted to ban Pride flags in Central Bucks classrooms because students should be taught how to think, not what to think[.]”

“The Philadelphia Inquirer chose the headline, we did not have any knowledge of it,” Hunter said. “Many of us were very frustrated with the title chosen and did not feel it was accurate. The headline contradicted the content of the op Ed, subsequently it lead (sic) to emails from the community expressing much confusion.”

Requests for comment to the Inquirer about the editorial’s headline were not returned.

“So yes, Policy 321 prevents teachers from hanging Pride flags in their classrooms” the editorial noted. “But it also bans anti-abortion banners, or any poster advocating for a particular partisan, political, or social policy issue, unless related to the day’s curriculum.

“We understand that the policy upsets some advocates. It upsets some teachers who want to advocate their personal views in the classroom; it upsets some students who agree with those views; it upsets some community activists who want to see their views championed in the classroom; it upsets some elements of the press who agree with those views; and it upsets the three board members who voted against the policy. But this outcry merely demonstrates the urgent need for the policy. Without it, partisan activity would abound in some classrooms.”

Dr. Oz Protests Newspaper’s Omission of His Professional Title

Is there a doctor in the house? Or the U.S. Senate race?

Republican 2022 Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz objected to The Philadelphia Inquirer’s newly announced policy not to use his title “Dr.” when writing about him.

Oz released a video, saying, “Last week The Philadelphia Inquirer had me on their front page as Dr. Oz. This morning they just announced no more ‘doctor,’ even though I’m a practicing physician, taking care of patients. I’ve done thousands of heart surgeries. They don’t want to call me ‘doctor’ anymore. I won’t be canceled.”

For years Associated Press style called for journalists to use Dr. on first reference to a medical doctor, dentist, optometrist, osteopath or podiatrist and then their last name in the remainder of an article. People who hold a doctorate degree have “Ph.D.” after their names, not a Dr. before—a practice that irks some academics.

However, publications can and do make their own rules. Which is what The Inquirer has, somewhat oddly, chosen to do in this case.

What do local doctors think of the brouhaha over Oz’s title?

“The New York Times has similar policies. The exception seems to be Martin Luther King,” said Dr. Robert Michaelson, a retired physician living in Montgomery County. “The Inquirer doesn’t label Valerie Arkoosh as Dr. and fortunately many news outlets don’t often mention that Rand Paul is a physician. The former Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, was a cardiac transplant surgeon and rarely was that mentioned. However, ‘Dr. Oz’ is also his show’s name.”

Dr. Robert Sklaroff, an oncologist and hematologist practicing in Philadelphia said, “Regardless of how a public figure chooses to ‘self-brand,’ journalists must report what that person says and/or does by applying standards that are identical to those invoked for all similarly-situated people. For example, “doctors” Barrasso and Paul are portrayed as “senators,” while each may be subsequently identified as a physician when discussing medical issues. They are not subtly disrespected when their activities are communicated without reference to their academic degrees, so Dr. Oz should not feel miffed if his well-earned title is omitted from news articles.”

Two other Delaware Valley doctors, both Democrats, are also vying to become their party’s Senate nominee: Arkoosh, who chairs the Montgomery County commissioners, and Dr. Kevin Baulim, who works in a Philadelphia ER.

“I feel very strongly about it,” said Dr. Kevin Baumlin. “My opinion is Dr. Arkoosh and I worked hard to get our doctorate in medicine. So did Dr. Oz. You can’t take away our salutation for one and not for the others. It was inappropriate that they used doctor for Oz and not for us.”

Rachel Petri, a spokesperson for Arkoosh, said, “ While Oz has been peddling fake diet pills and unproven COVID-19 treatments, Val’s been putting her medical degree to good use leading Pennsylvania’s third-largest county through COVID-19 and I can assure you Val has spent zero time thinking about use of her honorific in the paper. If Dr. Oz thinks that’s where his focus should be, that says everything you need to know about his priorities in this race.”

But medical title or not, Oz’s name recognition has given him an advantage over lesser-known politicians and he has changed the dynamics of the Senate race with his entry into the fray.

Echelon Insights ran an ad test of Oz’s first TV spot using Creative Optimizer, their self-serve ad-testing platform.  Using a randomized control trial, the company found that Dr. Oz’s ad pushed him to 50 percent support among Pennsylvania Republicans.


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