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Pennridge board, superintendent, clarify “divisive” policies

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Pennridge School Board members and the district superintendent pushed back against misinformation about two of its policies: student expression and teacher advocacy, announcing a compromise on the latter policy.

The district’s revised policy on teacher advocacy would allow teachers and other professional staff to share support for causes ranging from autism awareness to gay rights on their desks. Board member Ron Wurz said he was worried way the policy was currently written it would prevent anything from being displayed in rooms, including autism awareness, suicide prevention, gender, the environment. “Taking away a sign of support, it could lead to tragic situations. I could never support anything like that.”

Wurz told the Herald on Sunday he has three votes in support of the compromise and thinks he can get five. The proposed compromise must clear two readings before adoption in October.

The school representatives also cleared up misconceptions concerning student expression. Superintendent David Bolton said the policy had been mischaracterized and was really about the dissemination of non-school materials in school. “This doesn’t change student expression from what they can wear, what they can say, what they can hand out to their friends.” Bolton said the district would be open to such material as long as it was appropriate and students sought permission from their building principal to advertise outside events.

“This does not prevent a kid from creating a project on a LGBT topic or Christian topic, and teachers taking those topics and posting them on walls,” board member Megan Banis-Clemens added.

Board members also clarified that the teacher advocacy policy would not stop educators having discussions with students about controversial issues. “Those conversations should happen. What shouldn’t happen is the teacher makes it very clear what his or her views are on the topic,” said Bolton. Director Wurz agreed, noting the policy is not about restricting any debate, so long as the teacher is neutral. He called on teachers not to present opinions as facts.

The board’s measured moves and condemnation of all bullying disarmed some in the audience eager to label some board members as bigots.

“It’s sounds like we’re making a little bit of progress, so keep that up,” said one speaker, rainbow flag in tow. “I appreciate some of you for that -- some of you.”

Another parent said of the proposed compromise, “That is very refreshing that you have moved the needle; that means we can find common ground.”


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