LANSDALE — A North Penn School District administrator has been placed on leave after a Facebook post late last week calling out the Black Lives Matter movement.
"The comments do not align with the North Penn School District's core values," said the district in a statement Friday. "The employee has been placed on administrative leave while an investigation is conducted."
"To the district we say now is the time to stand up for what is right and to let the Black Community know that there is no place for hate in North Penn, and that you as a district will stand up and speak out about it," said Shaykh Anwar Muhammad, president of the Ambler Branch of the NAACP.
"Our children depend on your leadership to stand up for them and provide them with staff who are unbiased and have a heart for all children," he said.
At issue is a Facebook post shared on numerous social media groups late last week by Ashley Beiter Bennett, identified in screenshots of her Facebook profile shared with The Reporter as a special education supervisor for the North Penn School District. A profile on the district's website identifies Ashley Bennett as a special education administrator overseeing North Wales, Nash, and Oak Park elementary schools, with additional responsibilities for occupational and physical therapy and out-of-district placements, and with educational stints matching those in the Facebook profile; the district said Monday that Bennett has been a supervisor of special education for North Penn since 2013.
The Facebook message reads, in part: "I'm confused right now. I see signs all over saying #BlackLivesMatter. I'm just trying to figure out WHICH black lives matter. It can't be the unborn black babies — they are destroyed without a second thought."
"It's not black cops — they don't seem to matter at all. It's not my black #Conservative friends. They are told to shut the ---- up if they know what's best for them by their black counterparts. It's not black business owners. Their property, their business, and their employees don't mean anything. So which black lives matter again?!? I can't keep up. I can't. I'm exhausted trying to figure out what we're all supposed to do, believe, and be offended by, and outraged by next."
The post also notes that first responders and truck drivers were cheered months ago but targeted for defunding or violence now, and notes that "just 45 days ago protests weren't 'essential' and were considered criminal, selfish, and a murderous activity because of the #Coronavirus. Today they are gloriously critical and celebrated."
The post further questions media coverage of protests and lockdowns across the country, questioning statistics and the effectiveness of quarantines and business closures, while calling out apparent inconsistencies in recent Black Lives Matter protests.
"If you are silent you are part of the problem. If you speak, you are part of the problem. If you have to ask, you don't understand. If you don't ask, you don't care," reads the post.
"Remember, it's an election year and #Liberals are desperate, don't put anything past them. They hate #PresidentTrump more than they love #America and they don't care how much damage they do to our country. So for now I pray. I pray God will heal our land and Bless the United States of America."
After the posts drew a firestorm of social media comments on Thursday into Friday, the district posted a statement saying administrators learned of the comments Thursday morning, and that they do not align with district values.
"The views expressed conflict with our work to develop a community that values diversity. We strive to acknowledge, respect, understand, and celebrate the dynamics of racial and cultural differences," reads the district statement.
"Through the development of a culturally proficient staff, the establishment of structures that promote equitable opportunities, and partnerships with families and students, our school district will create an environment of respect where all members of the school community are empowered to learn, grow and appreciate one another."
The district statement adds links to prior board statements about racial equality and on the district's ongoing cultural proficiency efforts, and refers to the Juneteenth peaceful protest march in Lansdale organized by district alumni.
"A school district should be a reflection of its community, and the overwhelming support at numerous events for Black Lives Matter across the diverse and vibrant North Penn community aligns with our district's goals to make genuine, sustainable change," said the district.
In a press release Friday by the Ambler Branch of the NAACP, Muhammad said he and that group were "very concerned about the extremely disturbing social media posting," and that the post was liked by another district employee, identified in screenshots as Maria Stratton; the district said Monday that Stratton has been with the district since 2015, first as an elementary special education teacher and since 2018-19 as an inclusion facilitator.
The NAACP statement calls for the two employees to have no further contact with children, and said while district statements decrying racism in the wake of the death of George Floyd are a start, more must be done.
A subsequent post by Bennett apologized for the earlier post, saying "I allowed all of the negativity to get to me and used poor judgement. Anything that I posted that was interpreted as racist was not my intent...I plan to learn and grow from this experience so that my apology is not just words," according to reporting from North Penn Now; the post has apparently since been removed along with Bennett taking down her Facebook presence.
As of Monday afternoon, the district had no additional comment, and a district spokesperson said no similar social media-related incidents had happened in the district in the past five years; the incident is not currently a topic on any upcoming school board or committee agenda, but several meetings are scheduled in the coming days, including the Safe Schools committee at 6 p.m. on June 29 and July 27, the Policy committee at 5 p.m. on July 6, the Education/Curriculum/Instruction committee at 6 p.m. on July 7, and the full board at 7 p.m. on July 7. For more information visit www.NPenn.org.