EAST ROCKHILL — Pennridge School Board Vice President Joan Cullen, who has been called on to resign because of her social media posts, is again being asked to resign after her attendance at the Jan. 6 Washington DC rally that ended with violence in the U.S. Capitol. She is also criticized for being photographed in a group not wearing masks at the rally.
Supporters say Cullen is acting within her rights under the First Amendment, as does a statement from the school district. There have been no allegations that she took part in the violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
"The Pennridge School District has been made aware that one of its Board members was in Washington D.C. on January 6, 2021," the district statement said.
"The First Amendment to the United States Constitution generally prohibits any governmental limitation on any individual’s personal right of free speech, association and expression, especially on their private time," the release said. "With respect to questions regarding removal of that Board member, Board members are elected by a plurality of voters. As such, school districts have no authority under the Pennsylvania School Code to remove board members based on the exercise of their First Amendment rights."
In public comment submitted to the Jan. 11 Pennridge School Board committee meetings, a resident agreed that everyone is entitled to First Amendment rights, but said the controversy over Cullen distracts from what should be the board's main focus of supporting students.
"You are not stripping her of her First Amendment rights by demoting her, or asking her to resign, in the best interest of the board and the district. I expect every single one of you to speak up. Stop hiding behind the First Amendment. Put your commitment to the district above your relationship with your colleague and publicly tell her to enjoy her First Amendment right, but to resign from the board so that she can practice that right without distracting and taking time from where the board’s focus should be," Perkasie resident Katie Rene wrote in an email read aloud at the meeting held under pandemic guidelines.
"We should encourage diversity of opinion, and board members are not under obligation to self-censor their social media posts. But there comes a point where we must acknowledge that a line has been crossed and action needs to be taken, for the good of the district. We’re past that point now," Chuck Clifton, of Sellersville, wrote in another of the public comment emails.
None of the board members present at the meeting responded to the comments. Cullen was not present at the meeting, which included the Finance, Facilities and Policy Review committees. She chairs the Curriculum Committee, which is next scheduled to meet on Feb. 1. The full board's next meeting will be Jan. 26.
In response to an email sent to her for this article, Cullen said she was not interested in doing an interview or making a statement at this time.
A posting on the Pennridge School Board Watch Facebook page, meanwhile, received more than 175 comments, including several about Cullen, in response to a posting that initially did not mention Cullen.
A Change.org petition "calling for the immediate and permanent resignation of Vice President Joan Cullen for aiding and abetting rebellion ..." had 22 signatures as of the morning of Jan. 12.
Another Change.org petition started in June of 2020, which also called for Cullen's resignation, had more than 3,500 signatures, including ones added since Jan. 6.
That petition was started along with calls for Cullen's resignation after she retweeted a post that included, "There is no systemic racism in America," and commented that, "I'll add to this. There's also no systemic sexism, homophobia, etc. Those who try to convince you you're being held back by someone else DO NOT have your best interests in mind. They NEED you to be a victim so they can control you. Break free! The only one holding you back is u."
Video of the Jan. 11 Pennridge meeting is posted on the district's YouTube page, as are all of the board's meetings.