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1776 Curriculum-based program appears to have Pennridge board support


Despite vocal opposition from teachers, community members, and even some of their elected colleagues, the majority of the Pennridge School Board is poised to approve new curricula that won’t be officially adopted until the first day of school is over.

At a contentious Curriculum Committee meeting Monday, critics took aim at a proposal to use the controversial 1776 Curriculum, developed by conservative Christian Hillsdale College, as the framework for the district’s reading and language arts and social studies curricula.

They cited what they said was biased content, a flawed process, and the lack of time for teachers to prepare new lesson plans.

“It’s one-sided at best, and intentionally misleading at worst,” said Bradley Merkl-Gump, a Perkasie resident and Democrat candidate for school board in the fall election. “It reads more like fan fiction than good history.”

After outlining the proposal, K-12 Social Studies Curriculum Supervisor Jenna Vitale, who worked closely with consultant Jordan Adams, of Vermilion Education, over the summer, said she would “prefer this to be pushed to next year.” She expressed concerns about age appropriateness of some material and the limited amount of time teachers will have to plan lessons.

“I want to do the right thing,” said Vitale. “And what’s right is giving teachers more than a week to turn this around.”

However, Dr. Kathy Scheid, the district’s assistant superintendent for secondary schools, said she thought the first three units were sufficiently developed that the curriculum could move forward.

“We are where we are and we’re really comfortable with these three units,” said Scheid. “Ultimately everyone here wants to have good, sound courses for our students.”

After pointing out what she said were obvious biases in the 1776 curriculum related to slavery, women’s rights, civil rights, and the Founding Fathers, Sellersville resident April Fultz called for the board to reject the plan.

“Changing the entire curriculum one week before school starts is a terrible idea,” Fultz said. “This curriculum is not ready, it’s not right, and if you have any regard for the quality of our kids’ education, you would vote ‘no’ immediately.”

Board member Ron Wurz, who attended the meeting via telephone, said “it appears we’re rushing something through that’s not ready.”

In an interview after the meeting, board member Joan Cullen said there are “far too many unanswered questions to proceed.”

Cullen said she was “given particular pause” when a special education teacher said she will not have time to create differentiated lesson plans necessary to address the various learning needs of her students.

“Since we are still dealing with learning losses, it would seem inadvisable at best to create a situation where all of our students are not able to learn this new content, and thereby fall further behind or lose the ground they’ve gained,” said Cullen.

The only person who spoke in favor of the proposal was Josh Hogan, a West Rockhill resident and Republican candidate for school board in the fall election. Hogan, who founded the ReOpen Bucks movement in opposition to schools closing during the pandemic, accused Vitale of “openly launching an ambush” of the board.

In an email following the meeting, Hogan said he has spoken to Adams about the process “and he expressed full support and admiration for Ms. Vitale, emphasizing that they have worked well together.”

Hogan said Vitale had never expressed concerns about the curriculum before and said she arranged “for multiple social studies teachers to have prepared remarks and large document handouts created beforehand, which also were not shared with the Board prior to the meeting.”

One of the high school Social Studies teachers who spoke was Bob Cousineau, who said a large percentage of the proposed curriculum is not “developmentally appropriate” for incoming ninth grade students.

He said a text analyzer for two sources marked as “required” in Unit 1 rated one as “difficult to read” and another “very difficult to read” and that both were assessed to have a reading level of “college graduate.”

Cousineau also expressed concern about the removal of crucial historical content and the implementation of required lessons that lack differentiation for all learners.

“Let us be clear,” said Cousineau. “We are not in favor of implementing this proposed curriculum for the ‘23-’24 school year. We have not been given ample time to review and adjust the curriculum.

“In the best interest of our students, we ask that we keep the already board-approved ninth grade Early American History course until we have had enough time to fully develop this new curriculum.”

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