On Friday, two new attorneys joined the legal team representing Andrew Burgess, the suspended Central Bucks School District teacher suing the district on claims of harassment and retaliation. Early Tuesday morning, those same two attorneys withdrew from the case, making their tenure on his legal team less than two whole business days.
The whiplash entry and exit of Kasturi Sen and Patricia Pierce of Weir Greenblatt Pierce LLP, comes less than three weeks after Burgess’s legal team went through another sizable shakeup, bringing the total up to five the number of attorneys who have left Burgess’s side of the case this month.
In the second week of August, three attorneys from the firm LeVan Stapleton Segal Cochran LLC also withdrew from the case, which at the time cut the size of Burgess’s legal team in half. Those withdrawals were noteworthy because they landed just days before Burgess and the rest of his legal team, primarily composed of two lawyers from the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, would file an amended complaint with the court that dramatically expanded his allegations of harassment against the district.
None of the attorneys who have exited have responded to requests for comment. The ACLU of Pennsylvania, which has acted at times as Burgess’s spokesman, also did not return a request for comment.
Although there is no current evidence suggesting why the attorneys have left, such high turnover can sometimes signal discord behind the scenes.
Burgess is the teacher at the center of a controversy that has roiled the third largest school district in the commonwealth since the spring of 2022.
In May 2022, an unknown number of students walked out of Lenape Middle School in protest of Burgess’s suspension. But the exact reason for the suspension has been one of the central points of debate.
The teacher and his allies claim he was suspended for his support of LGBT students, in particular, some specific transgender students. The district, meanwhile, says the opposite is true, that Burgess was suspended for having knowledge of several incidents of bullying against one transgender student, but failed to report them to administrators.
The maneuvers between Burgess and the district come in the wake of the election of a conservative board majority in 2021.
That board has enacted policies that the political left has characterized as being hostile to LGBT rights, but which the board argues are mainstream and aligned with parental rights.
For example, the board enacted a policy to ban all political signage in classrooms. The media and others have frequently referred to this as a ban on “pride flags.” The policy, however, does not target any single political emblem, but rather bans all political signage. So while pride flags would not be allowed in a class unless the flag was relevant to coursework, the policy likewise bans Trump flags, “Thin Blue Line” flags that support police, or the Confederate battle flag (again, unless it were relevant to course materials).
As allegations that the board was biased against LGBT students hit a fever pitch last year, the board authorized an investigation by the law firm Duane Morris, asking the firm to look into the district culture as well as investigate some of the more specific incidents surrounding the Burgess controversy.
Burgess, mainly with the help of the ACLU, sued the district in early May.
Weeks later, attorneys for Duane Morris provided a report from the investigation to the board and the public. It claimed Burgess had orchestrated a controversy to build a narrative in the media that would politically damage the conservative board.
The amended complaint Burgess and his remaining legal team filed earlier this month added new allegations that the Duane Morris report was yet another form of harassment and retaliation from the board.
Of the two attorneys who recently dropped out, Patricia Pierce, a partner with her firm, boasts an expertise in employment law. Her career biography says she has represented “individuals and groups of workers who have suffered employment discrimination and workplace harassment[.]”
Kasturi Sen’s career biography says she “is committed to fighting for social justice and thus her practice focuses on protecting the rights of individuals who have suffered discrimination, harassment, retaliation, wage theft or other violations, or been targeted by unfair non-compete practices in the workplace.”
The Burgess drama is expected to play heavily in the upcoming November elections, now ten weeks away.
Central Bucks School District, divided into nine regions, has five seats up for election this November. There are races in Region 1 (Buckingham Township and New Britain), Region 2 (Buckingham Township and Plumstead), Region 3 (Buckingham Township), Region 6 (Doylestown), and Region 8 (Doylestown Borough).
There are two competing PACs supporting each slate of candidates.
Central Bucks Forward is supporting Republican candidates including Steve Mass (R1), incumbent Dana Hunter (R2), Glenn Schloeffel (R3), Aarati Martino (R6), and Tony Arjona (R8).
CBSD Neighbors United candidates endorsed by the Democratic party and PSEA and include incumbent Karen Smith (R1), Heather Reynolds (R2), Dana Foley (R3), Rick Haring (R6), and Susan Gibson (R8).
Three other incumbents are not running for reelection: Leigh Vlasblom (R), Sharon Collopy (R), and Tabitha Dell’Angelo (D).
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. @shepherdreport