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West Chester Area School Board Meeting Halts Amid Comments

Patch logo Patch 10/26/2021 Marlene Lang
A digital clock counting public comment time is displayed behind the West Chester Area School District Board of Directors in its most recent meeting. © West Chester Area School District A digital clock counting public comment time is displayed behind the West Chester Area School District Board of Directors in its most recent meeting.

WEST CHESTER, PA — A meeting of the West Chester School District Board of Directors went into a recess during its public comment time after a speaker distributed handouts of material he said was being used in some schools and was pornographic.

Chris — whose last name was not clearly discernable in the video recording — of East Bradford Township asked board members whether the handout he said was taken from a K-12 book called "Gender Queer" constituted pornography.

"Does this look like pornography?" asked Chris.

Before any board member could respond, the School District's attorney interjected, advising board members not to answer. As the parent asked again for an answer and said he was being censored, the solicitor explained that this is a period for public comment and speakers may comment, but that the meeting's public comment period is not a question-and-answer session.

Chris continued — with no response from Board members to his question — saying that if the material he'd presented was pornographic, then those who knew it was being presented to children would be mandated to report it as child abuse. Chris did not state in the meeting that the material from the "Gender Queer" book was being used in West Chester Area School District, only that it was "being used in kindergarten through 12th-grade learning environments."

Finally, the speaker walked away from the speaker's podium as shouts arose from the socially distance audience, saying, "When? When will you answer?" The shouts repeated and became louder and Board Vice President Sue Tierney called for a recess, which was quickly seconded.

As the video was still recording, voices could be heard saying "unbelievable," and "disgusting."

Prior to this, the first hour-plus of the meeting had been very routine, with the usual approvals from the consent agenda, and committee reports. Board members had warmly commented on the retirement of Kevin Campbell after 37 years as Director of Building and Grounds for the District.

When the meeting reconvened, one parent thanked the Board for listening to parents during the recess and asked the WCASD Board to "find a way to change the tone of the meetings," which she said made her feel unwelcome as she came before the Board to speak. She said she had begun to question whether the Board members "care what parents think."

Four parents asked the School Board to expand the public comment time limit from two minutes to possibly three minutes, noting that most school districts in Chester County allow three minutes for comment.

After a July incident in which WCASD President Chris McCune had a speaker removed from a meeting when she went over her time limit and refused the end her talk, the Board has added a preface to public comment time. As a giant "2:00" timer stands ready to count down in the backdrop to the Board seats, speakers are told they will be asked to end if their comments are too lengthy, "personally directed, off-topic, abusive, or obscene." Read a Patch story about the response to that July meeting here.

Two speakers asked the Board to examine the material used in WCASD that they said "vilified police officers." One of those two District residents also expressed dismay at the Board's responses to parents who oppose Critical Race Theory, calling the Board's attitude to CRT "divisive and demeaning." The Board approved Policy changes related to how meetings will be conducted, which will be reported in detail when the document is obtained by Patch.

He was not the only one to speak during the non-agenda-related comment time about Critical Race Theory. It's a topic that has brought contention to school board meetings nationwide as some parents insist curriculum and teacher training are forms of Marxism. Some CRT opponents argue it is a view of history that casts American history as one of white oppression and is anti-American.

One speaker called CRT "Marxist garbage" and "indoctrination."

The portion of Tuesday's meeting before the recess can be viewed here. The last half hour of the meeting after it was reconvened can be viewed here.

This story will be updated with names and spellings of speakers when the written minutes of the meeting are available.

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