The superintendent and board president for the Central Bucks School District on Tuesday sent a detailed 1,500-word report to parents and other stakeholders in the community explaining the ins and outs of the district’s new policy (Policy 321) regarding the display of political paraphernalia in schools.
Policy 321 has been a lightning rod of controversy in recent weeks. Among a number of items, the policy’s language states that employees “shall not display any flag, banner, poster, sign, sticker, pin, button, insignia, paraphernalia, photograph, or other similar material that advocates concerning any partisan, political, or social policy issue.”
Critics, including some current CBSD board members, say the policy is meant to silence LGBT students. Supporters of the measure, including the six members who voted for its passage, say the intentions are to foster a more fluid learning environment by keeping employees’ personal politics sidelined.
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Superintendent Abe Lucabaugh and board president Dana Hunter described the explainer as “an overview and explanation of the intended outcomes of Policy 321, including what the policy does and does not require of employees, the steps being taken to implement the policy in classrooms, and considerations moving forward.”
“Policy 321 calls for balance and neutrality in the classroom, whether it is in the context of teaching the Board-approved curriculum, facilitating discussions about current events, addressing students’ questions, conversing with students about social or political matters, or assessing students’ responses and work products,” the message went on to say.
State enrollment data from 2021–22 shows that Central Bucks was the fifth largest school district in the state, with about 17,500 students. With its population, and being situated in one of the most “swingy” counties in the nation, political observers are closely watching the battle.
The debate between the two factions played out recently in the editorial pages of the Inquirer.
In an editorial last week, the three board members against Policy 321, Tabitha Dell’Angelo, Mariam Mahmud, and Karen Smith, said, “The majority of our colleagues on the Central Bucks School Board have seemingly subscribed to the national partisan agenda that has a disproportionately negative impact on historically marginalized groups, most notably the LGBTQ community.”
To the contrary, the policy does not ban discussion of any topics, nor does it regulate student speech at all. It simply says that teachers cannot use their position of authority to advocate for one side of a partisan, political, or social policy issue…
“We know that stress impairs cognitive function, and students learn best in safe environments. Creating classrooms that lead with community building, belonging, and dignity helps students achieve the right mindset to be ready to learn,” the three members also argued. “These welcoming environments aid students’ abilities to plan and meet goals, regulate their behavior, and help students stay focused despite possible distractions.”
The board majority in favor of the policy responded with its own editorial, published Tuesday, saying the policy has been mischaracterized.
“To the contrary, the policy does not ban discussion of any topics, nor does it regulate student speech at all. It simply says that teachers cannot use their position of authority to advocate for one side of a partisan, political, or social policy issue,” the group wrote. “Thus, the policy promotes a robust discussion from multiple angles on all topics that are related to the curriculum. Consequently, the policy prohibits decorating classrooms with flags, banners, posters, and the like for the purpose of advocating on partisan, political, or social issues.”
The six members in the majority are Debra Cannon, Sharon Collopy, Dana Hunter, James Pepper, Lisa Sciscio, and Leigh Vlasblom.
Todd Shepherd is Broad + Liberty’s chief investigative reporter. Send him tips at firstname.lastname@example.org, or use his encrypted email at email@example.com. @shepherdreports