Have you heard the news? According to the Philadelphia Inquirer’s editorial board, “the Republican majority running roughshod over the school board has politicized and divided the Central Bucks school district.”
Don’t they know that an elected majority is controlling the Central Bucks school board? This does not mean that it is “running roughshod” ignoring the feelings and opinions of others — this is democracy in action.
The issue here is that this elected majority is simply not the ideological majority the Inquirer wants to see. They made this clear when, in a significant divergence from their usual approach, the editorial board formally endorsed five Democrats for Central Bucks school board.
The Inquirer cited these candidates as the “best choices” that will give voters an “opportunity to restore balance” — what they really mean is an opportunity to restore the board’s Democratic majority.
For the Inquirer to claim that the board’s majority is at fault for politicizing and dividing the Central Bucks schools issue is especially bizarre — one of their five endorsed candidates, incumbent Karen Smith, personally emailed the U.S. Department of Education asking that the district be investigated, unbeknownst to the rest of the school board. This action by the Inquirer’s candidate of choice significantly elevated how politicized, divisive, and sensationalized this issue came to be.
Furthermore, when it comes to their actual response to Duane Morris’s report, the Inquirer editorial left much to be desired. They continually attacked the firm for leading a “biased” investigation but failed to provide any concrete refutations to their findings.
In their attempts to do so, they cite a mother’s report that her daughter has been harassed online by a group of boys who sent anonymous threatening messages through social media because of her gender identity, but fail to mention whether or not this was reported to the school administration, and whether the boys were even students in the Central Bucks school district. And it’s not entirely clear just how much jurisdiction the district would have over social media bullying that could occur off school property and outside of school hours, as opposed to something witnessed in a hallway.
READ MORE — WHYY now? Outlet ends days of radio silence after Broad + Liberty inquiry
For a concrete example of how blinkered the Inquirer was, consider that it said, “…one thing is clear: The Central Bucks School District’s problems began with the 2021 election of the Republican majority that now controls the board.” Yet the ACLU’s original complaint to the Department of Education claims a transgender student attempted suicide in 2019, two years before the Republican majority assumed power.
Simply put, the Inquirer missed the main point of Duane Morris’s findings because it wanted to.
Administrators in the Central Bucks school district were accused of cultivating an environment hostile to LGBT students, specifically by allowing intolerance towards these students to occur in Central Bucks schools with impunity. But as the investigation findings show, reported instances of bullying towards LGBT students were handled diligently by school administrators and district employees. The only exception: where an activist teacher deliberately withheld reports of bullying in an effort to build up a dossier to use against the district — a point the Inquirer neglected to mention.
None of this is to say that bullying of LGBT students does not occur in the Central Bucks school district, but it does mean that reported instances of bullying are being addressed by district employees. This is important for students and parents to know, which is part of why the investigation was commissioned in the first place.
The Duane Morris investigation acknowledges all this, noting that some bullying and harassment takes place, regrettably, but that it is not wildly more or less than any other school district.
To distract from this, the Inquirer’s piece continually bashed the district on the topic of “book bans” and the prohibition of teacher’s political and religious decorations in the classroom. The “book ban” they’re referring to was the district’s adoption of a policy to review school library books before they’re put on the shelves, where previously the district had no policy for reviewing library materials.
Books which, among other things, contained pictures of teenagers performing oral sex on each other, sparked this debate at Central Bucks. It goes without saying that parents had reasonable concerns.
On the point of pride flags being banned in classrooms, one need not look further than the Inquirer’s own assertion that public education is not about promoting religious or political views. To assert that the absence of such symbols makes an environment unwelcoming to the group it represents, in this case the pride flags and LGBT students, suggests that there is something inherently wrong with a neutral classroom environment — one without any symbols that may indicate advocacy for any partisan, political, or social issue.
The sentiment behind this position is befittingly characteristic of the political hyperpolarization dividing the country at this present moment — where even those who chose to remain neutral or apolitical are shamed for their perceived inaction.
But the district’s position on this issue has been made clear — “the policy does not ban discussion of any topics, nor does it regulate student speech at all. It simply says teachers cannot use their position of authority to advocate for one side of a partisan, political, or social policy issue.” The policy simply seeks to create a politically neutral classroom environment.
So we agree to the Inquirer’s point: public education is not about promoting religious or political views. Where we differ is in believing that the rule should apply to both sides.
Broad + Liberty is a nonprofit media endeavor dedicated to sharing voices and stories that are shut out of other media outlets. @broadandliberty