EAST ROCKHILL — For the second month in a row, board Vice President Joan Cullen's attendance at the Jan. 6 rally in Washington, D.C that ended in violence dominated the public comment portion of the Feb. 22 Pennridge School Board meeting.
At the board's Jan. 26 meeting, Cullen condemned the violence, but defended her actions as being part of a peaceful rally to advocate for election integrity.
Several public comments that had been emailed were also read aloud at that meeting, which was held as a virtual meeting because of inclement weather. Not all the emails were read, though, after Michael Miller, the district's attorney and parliamentarian for the public comments portion of the meeting, reviewed the emails and found that some did not follow district policy regarding public comment.
"Some individuals have complained that at the last meeting their comments were not read and that the ruling of the parliamentarian was unfair or improper. I disagree. I try and call the balls and strikes as fairly as I possibly can," Miller said at the Feb. 22 meeting, at which the public comment was again by email because of inclement weather.
"Some of those individuals and their lawyer have threatened litigation in federal court against the district," Miller said, "and while I tell you that I disagree with their conclusion, neither the board nor the taxpayers should have to bear the costs of litigation over a comment. As such, the district will read the comments of those individuals as submitted to the board."
Commenters included Bedminster resident John Wilson, who has two children in the district.
"I am deeply concerned by the recent censorship of more than 30 public comments by the district at the January 26 meeting of the full board. While the district administration and this board have repeatedly claimed they are powerless to discipline or even disavow Joan Cullen for her participation in the January sixth capitol riots, the district has no problem flexing its muscles against concerned parents and students," he said in the email.
He also noted that Cullen's comments were included verbatim in the meeting minutes, while the resident comments were "sanitized beyond recognition."
Perkasie resident Katy Rene said that under the district's elementary school discipline code, students are expected to accept responsibility and the consequences of their actions.
"Mrs. Cullen should accept the responsibility for the embarrassment and negative attention she has brought to Pennridge, which she could do by offering her resignation tonight. If she will not, then it is up to the rest of the board to decide on some actual consequence," Rene wrote in her email.
"Let us be clear that this is not about free speech or the right to peacefully protest. This is about an attempt to stop legal process and overturn legal votes," Hilltown residents Mary and Eric Nogami said in their comment. "On that day, she was part of a movement that wanted to discredit our democracy and engaged in attack on people at the capitol."
The comments also included some in defense of Cullen.
"What someone does legally in their private time has absolutely nothing to do with their work on the school board," wrote Janelle Montagni.
"Those so aggressive of cancel culture should be very careful. It can easily boomerang back if the mob disagrees with something you say or do," she said. "We hope and pray that once and for all everyone can get their irrelevant and unrelated complaints and grievances out tonight so we can go back to focusing on our kids and their education."
Video of the entire meeting and all other board meetings is available on the district's YouTube channel.
The district previously issued a statement saying board members are elected and the district has no authority under state law to remove a board member for exercising First Amendment rights.
Cullen was chair of the board's Curriculum Committee, but is now listed on the district website as a member of the committee and board member Lisa Walters is listed as chair. Cullen is also listed as chair of the Activities Committee and a member of the Personnel Committee.
In other matters at the meeting:
• The board approved raising the pay rates for substitute teachers from the previous $100 per day rate to $120. The move is needed after other local districts raised their rates because of difficulty getting enough substitutes this year, district officials said at the Feb. 1 Personnel Committee meeting.
• Superintendent David Bolton asked district staff, parents and students involved in presenting Black History Month programs during February to give an overview of those programs.
Erin Reichert, a Pennridge graduate and parent who is an academic coach for district elementary schools, said the Black History Month lessons were adjusted this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, in order to meet the needs of students and teachers in either in-class, hybrid or remote learning.
Other programs included Diversity & Inclusion Week, which was held Feb. 8 through 11 at J. M. Grasse Elementary School.
It was designed to build awareness around the uniqueness of each individual, Dr. Dyan Underhill, a Grasse parent involved in organizing the event, said.
"During the week at Grasse Elementary School, our community celebrated and embraced diverse backgrounds, values and points of view in order to build a strong, inclusive community. We prepared students for lives in a multi-cultural society," she said.
MaryLou Ashworth, librarian at Pennridge Central Middle School, said students did research projects on notable African Americans and showed a presentation by student Nikki Ladd on Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler, who in 1864 became the first African American woman to earn a medical degree.
High school seniors and cousins Aliyah and Maya Lomax co-founded the school's Minority Inclusion Club in their sophomore year and brought a petition to the board last summer asking for the district to implement a more diverse curriculum.
"The history of Black people cannot be bottled up in only 28 days. This can be better implemented with a curriculum change which we know the district has been working towards," Aliyah Lomax said. "It is important that students of the Pennridge School District leave here with a complete understanding of the whole American history."
• "As many of you know, today was the second first day of school here at Pennridge High School," Aidan McGinnis, student liaison to the board, said during his report.
That was the first time since March 13 of 2020 that students at the high school had the option of in-class learning five days a week, he said.
"It was just so amazing to walk through school today and hear people talking in the hallways," and get to see people the students hadn't seen in awhile, McGinnis said.
The five days a week in-class learning at the high school replaces hybrid classes which had been held since the beginning of the school year. Health and safety protocols, including social distancing, remain in effect. Fully remote learning is also offered.
"It's been a long time coming and we're so happy that you're able to attend five-day class," board President William Krause said.