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Voters should prioritize education and student well-being in Central Bucks school board race | Endorsement

Public education is about accepting and educating everyone — not banning books, limiting free speech, allowing intolerance, or promoting religious and political views.

The Editorial Board on May 9, 2023, 5:00 a.m. ET

The ongoing drama at the Central Bucks School District continues to play out at the expense of students, teachers, and taxpayers.

The latest act came in the form of a disingenuous 151-page report presented to the school board last month. The district commissioned the report after a federal complaint filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania alleged bullying, harassment, and discrimination of LGBTQ students.

The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights is investigating the charges. But rather than seek to address concerns of a toxic environment, the Republican majority on the school board voted 6-3 to lawyer up.


legal team was hired from the law firm of Duane Morris, led by Bill McSwain, a former U.S. attorney under Donald Trump, and former federal prosecutor Michael Rinaldi.

The hiring of McSwain may have been the first signal that the Republican majority on the board had little interest in an independent appraisal of the LGBTQ students’ bullying and harassment claims.

McSwain had defended the Boy Scouts’ anti-gay policies after the city of Philadelphia attempted to evict the group from its headquarters in 2007. As a Republican candidate for governor last year, he called a West Chester school’s gender-sexuality alliance club “leftist political indoctrination” and promised that “this ends when I’m governor.

But defending intolerance doesn’t come cheap. Central Bucks School District taxpayers are expected to pay McSwain’s firm $1 million.

McSwain watched as Rinaldi presented their findings during a special meeting of the school board last month. The hired guns found no evidence the district created a hostile environment for LGBTQ students. Instead, the report accused Democrats and activists of “weaponizing” allegations to undermine the Republicans who won a majority on the board in November 2021.

In an interview with this board, ACLU of Pennsylvania Legal Director Witold “Vic” Walczak called the report a “one-sided hit job” that contained many incorrect inferences. Indeed, some exhibits in the report appear to contradict the findings, according to one local news article.

Marlene Pray, founder and director of Rainbow Room, an LGBTQ youth education program in Doylestown, described the report as a “$1 million PR stunt,” adding the school “board got what they paid for.”

Rinaldi countered that “witness after witness” failed to provide specific instances of unaddressed bullying of LGBTQ students.

Perhaps the district’s lawyers didn’t look very hard. Mindy Freeman said her daughter has been harassed online by a group of boys who sent anonymous messages via social media urging her to “kill herself” because of her gender identity.

“What was glaringly missing from ‘the data’ was input from students, parents, and other community members,” Freeman wrote.

Instead, the district’s lawyers found a scapegoat: Rinaldi accused a teacher of promoting allegations of discrimination in response to the Republican board majority’s policies. Rinaldi recommended the teacher, Andrew Burgess, be suspended without pay.

Burgess, in turn, sued the district, alleging retaliation for his helping a transgender student file a complaint last year with the Office for Civil Rights. Taxpayers can expect more legal bills.

Amid the finger-pointing, one thing is clear: The Central Bucks School District’s problems began with the 2021 election of the Republican majority that now controls the board.

Fortunately, five of the nine seats on the school board are up for election, giving voters the opportunity to restore balance. The best choices in the May 16 primary are incumbent Karen Smith and newcomers Heather ReynoldsDana FoleyRick Haring, and Susan Gibson.

Central Bucks has been one of the top school districts in Pennsylvania. But lately, the district has been embroiled in one self-inflicted controversy after another, including efforts to ban books, remove Pride flags, prohibit teachers from calling students by their preferred pronouns without parents’ permission, and order a librarian to remove posters with quotes from Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel.

The district later allowed the posters to remain, but it’s worth highlighting the offending quote from Wiesel’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech: “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”


The rancor and folly on display at Central Bucks school board meetings is part of a broader right-wing extremist culture war.

The rancor and folly on display at Central Bucks school board meetings is part of a broader right-wing extremist culture war that has embroiled school districts across the country since the pandemic.

Public education is about accepting and educating everyone — not banning books, limiting free speech, allowing intolerance, or promoting religious and political views.

The Republican majority running roughshod over the school board has politicized and divided the Central Bucks schools. The board’s actions have attracted unflattering national attention from CNN to the New York Times.

School board member Smith was so dismayed that she switched her party affiliation from lifelong Republican to Democratic in 2021. “We’ve really lost our way, we’re not focusing on students anymore,” she said.

Indeed, the district wasted $1 million in taxpayer money to hire a law firm to gin up a report that essentially found everything is hunky-dory in Central Bucks.

Despite those findings, one stubborn fact remains. At a school board meeting last year, Superintendent Abe Lucabaugh described the climate of fear for LGBTQ students: “For them, a successful day is getting through the day and not being harassed, not being outed by someone, a successful day is getting through the day without someone throwing a slur at them.”

The best way for the Central Bucks School District to stop being another front in the culture war and return its focus to the education and well-being of all its students is through the ballot box.

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