The Central Bucks School Board majority, in a 6 to 3 vote Tuesday night, limited what CB teachers are allowed to discuss, display, wear, and advocate for to promote “neutrality and balance” in the classroom.
Notably, Policy 321 bans teachers from displaying LGBTQ Pride flags in their classrooms, or from partaking in actions that the school deems “too partisan” for the classroom.
The policy was tabled at a prior board meeting and has since been somewhat rewritten, based on suggestions made by Duane Morris LLC, a law firm recently hired by the board majority. The changes strike all direct statements referring to “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.”
But its supporters, including the board majority and superintendent, made clear that the policy’s original intentions — including removal of Pride flags from classrooms — are intact, much to the concern of LGBTQ+ students and other advocates who attended the meeting.
School board member Karen Smith stood with them.
“The scrubbing by the legal team can’t erase the path this policy followed from an administrative directive banning pride flags to its current state as an embarrassing inventory of restrictions on intellectual and personal freedoms,” she said Wednesday in an emailed statement.
Many expressed fears the policy could worsen harassment of and discrimination against LGBTQ+ students. Several even drew attention to the elevated national suicide rates transgender students face. Some went so far as to name specific children in the district who took their own lives due to homophobia-related bullying.
Though no direct arguments took place during the discussion phase prior to the vote, Board Members Debra Cannon and Lisa Sciscio, had each prepared a speech. Both speeches singled out Smith and board member Tabitha Dell’Angelo, who’ve voted against policies the board majority voted to pass, accusing them of hypocrisy and spreading lies to the public.
Going a step further, Sciscio even accused public speakers of attempting to guilt her with stories of children committing suicide, stating that it will do nothing to persuade her.
Dell’Angelo said in an email to the Herald that the board majority and minority members were elected to create the best possible learning environment for the students.
“Our board does not have a shared belief and understanding about how to do that,” she said.
It is unclear what members of the staff are primarily responsible for enforcing the policy, nor does it say what the consequences will be for teachers who do not comply.
The policy simply states that “When implementing and enforcing Policy 321, District employees, the Superintendent and principals may be guided by [a previously established] non-endorsement principle.”
The final version of Policy 321 states its mission as being “to promote education instead of indoctrination or endorsement of partisan, political, or social policy matters.”
Smith said references to student indoctrination were demeaning to district staff.
“We can not teach children how to think when we are restricting and controlling thoughts,” she said. “This policy is the very opposite of education.”
The U.S. Department of Education is currently investigating Central Bucks School District, which has been accused by the ACLU of creating a hostile learning environment for LGBTQ+ students. In response, the CB Board majority hired Duane Morris law firm to investigate the ACLU’s complaint against them. The firm’s team will be led by Bill McSwain, a former U.S. Attorney appointed by former president Donald Trump.
Freda R. Savana contributed to this report.