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Guest Opinion

Central Bucks report sets the record straight


Local politics today feels like a blood sport. This is nowhere more apparent than in Central Bucks School Board meetings, where insults and accusations drown out the occasional kind word. These scenes have been recounted so often in the local and national media that it seems like an ingrained symptom of our current toxic culture. The side effects are predictable: confused students and parents, discouraged teachers, and ever-growing incivility. How do we stop the bickering and move forward?

To understand what happened, it’s essential to study the full report and presentation prepared by the law firm of Duane Morris, presented April 20. The report substantiates facts based upon hours of testimony and reams of emails. It can be difficult to watch because of troublesome revelations.

The report reads like a melodrama: Vulnerable children used as pawns in a political battle, and respected educators maligned. The report zeroes in on two actors at the center of this sad drama who lit the fire.

According to the report, Andrew Burgess, vice president of the Central Bucks Education Association (CBEA, teachers union), and Lenape Middle School teacher, was told by two LGBTQ+ students that they had been verbally and physically bullied by other students. Not only did he fail to report the incident to administration, as required by policy, the investigation reveals he actually discouraged the student and their parent from reporting as well.

Instead, the report suggests that he politicized sensitive information by crafting a secret dossier and eventually used it to file complaints with the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR). While he was doing so, these students were left in harm’s way. An internal investigation revealed the facts, and Mr. Burgess was suspended for his failure to report, and additional reasons, substantiated in the report.

For nearly a year, a local and national firestorm raged, fueled by unsubstantiated allegations that Burgess was suspended in May 2022 for helping LGBTQ+ children. Students protested what they mistakenly thought was an unwarranted suspension. The protests led to chaos in the school, with a vulnerable child in the hospital, teachers injured, a principal doxxed, and our district investigated by the Department of Education.

This chaos could have been prevented had Burgess squelched the untruthful rumors of why he was suspended. But he was not the only arsonist in this drama.

The second actor highlighted in the report is two-term school board director Karen Smith. She emailed the OCR of the Department of Education in July 2022 from her official board email asking for help in the “fight,” alleging a “hostile environment” for LGBTQ+ students. She falsely claimed that a CB teacher (Burgess) had been suspended for “protecting a transgender student.” The email revealed that Karen Smith was aware of the ACLU investigation. Ms. Smith did not notify the district that she was filing the complaint, or that she had knowledge of the ACLU investigation. This was a blindside attack on our district.

With the surprise September announcements of the ACLU complaint and the federal OCR’s pending probe, the school district was forced to obtain counsel to investigate.

At stake were vulnerable children, and the reputation of teachers, administrators, and our entire district. Smith blames the district for the expense of the investigation, when the report shows it is in fact her own actions and those of Andrew Burgess that made the investigation necessary.

They pulled the fire alarm and are now complaining that the fire engines showed up.

The report does not reveal a district entirely free of bullying. But it is a district whose staff are working to address unsafe environments. The report could not identify a single incident where a reported act of bullying was not quickly addressed. Nor, under sworn testimony, could Burgess.

We can only hope that all are absorbing the report and can heal moving forward.

We need to focus on how to best educate all our children, already behind the curve after the pandemic and the lockdowns.

To accomplish this, we need to turn down the temperature and restore civility. No one can be a part of the solution without a thorough understanding of the facts available in the report, while disregarding the rumors it discredits.

We ask our children to read primary source documents, and this report is a collection of source documents and interviews that dissects what transpired.

I have only scratched the surface of the many disturbing details of the report. I encourage every parent, taxpayer and voter to read it, watch the presentation as I did, and come to their own conclusions based on facts, not grapevine rumors via social media postings. I ask Andrew Burgess and Karen Smith to come clean with the public and the Office of Civil Rights with full truth and transparency regarding their roles in the events that have transpired since March 2022. An apology would go a long way towards healing the division.

Steve Mass, M.D. is a surgeon based in Doylestown. He is running for Central Bucks school board in Region 1 against Karen Smith.

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