A controversial mailer appeared in the mailboxes of thousands of Republican households in the Central Bucks School District last week, as the bruising campaign season heats up for five open seats on the school board.
The mailer, sent by Stop Bucks Extremism PAC, arrived in an envelope with “Caution Contains Sexually Explicit Images Taken From Inside Central Bucks School Libraries” stamped in red across the front.
The contents included a mail-in ballot with a prepaid envelope addressed to the Board of Elections and a laminated flier with depictions of male genitalia and illustrations reportedly taken from the books “Gender Queer” and “This Book is Gay.”
Recipients of the mailing are told “Extreme Central Bucks Democrats are fighting to keep these books in our middle school and high school libraries.”
Following an outcry by some in the community, as well as the school board’s Republican majority, the books were removed from two district libraries earlier this year.
Two copies of “Gender Queer” had been in Central Bucks South High School and the sole copy of “This Book is Gay” was removed from Tamanend Middle School. The books were found to violate the school district’s new library policy restricting books with nudity and sexual content.
The policy also established a review committee for any books challenged by parents or other community members.
The Stop Bucks Extremism political action committee and its provocative messaging caught at least two Republican school board candidates by surprise.
"I had no knowledge whatsoever about the mailing before it went out,” said Dr. Stephen Mass, in an email. “My first thought was that it was going to be very controversial, and our district needs less controversy, not more. But then I thought, these images were mailed out to adults in sealed envelopes with a warning regarding graphic materials. How can it be inappropriate for adults to see these vile images, but it's somehow alright for our children to view them in school libraries?”
Mass is running for a seat in Region 1.
That’s a false equivalency, according to Democratic candidate Dana Foley, who is running in Region 3.
“Having one copy of a vetted book in its entirety and kept behind a middle or high school librarian's desk, geared for a very specific audience seeking to read it, doesn’t really carry the same intention, nor have the same reach, as that mailer did. You just cannot compare apples to oranges,” she said.
Foley described the mailer as “unfortunate.”
“I truly don't think this mailer is a ‘Democrat verses a Republican’ issue,” she said. “I am disappointed and saddened to see such cruel partisan tactics at play by the far-right extremists responsible for it.”
Foley’s opponent in Region 3 is Glenn Schloeffel.
"Until recently I was not aware of this group, but I am glad there are others exposing the overly sexually explicit material that our opponents want in our schools,” Schloeffel said in an email. “If your personal desire is for your child to have these books, they are widely available in public libraries and bookstores.”
While she did not receive the mailer, Republican candidate Aarati Martino said, in an email,
“I think it is good that people know exactly what books were removed and what they contained since there has been so much misinformation on the matter,” said Martino, who is running in Region 6.
Republican candidates Tony Arjona and Dana Hunter, who is the current school board president, could not be reached for comment.
According to the PAC’s website, the mailing is described as part of an “aggressive early voting campaign.”
It’s unclear where the PAC is receiving its funding, or what it’s spent so far on the Central Bucks races. The action committee will be required to document its spending later this month, according to state law.
Rebecca Cooper, a Democrat in the district, lives in a bipartisan home that received the mailer. She called it a “fear tactic” and “unnecessarily salacious.” Her Republican roommate did not open the envelope, said Cooper, in a phone interview.
Foley isn’t surprised by that response.
“I think people are upset about the mailer for very obvious reasons,” she said. “It certainly feels a bit misguided to me to suggest that I would want (or anyone for that matter) over 17,000 homes to receive unsolicited sexual images, from a book they didn’t ask to read, sent to their home.”