Message From the Superintendent and Board President

Dear Central Bucks Community, 

At last week’s School Board meeting, I took a moment to highlight my expectations for our students’ experience in our schools, along with my deep concern that the current climate in our community – both in school and out of school – is disrupting our mission of providing every child with the high-quality educational experience they deserve. Unfortunately, my comments were taken out of context by media outlets and members of the community who saw fit to relay only portions of what was said, resulting in a false narrative that is wholly unacceptable. Subsequently, I am providing the following to set the record straight.

In the event you are interested in what I said, you can hear the complete statement here. In it, I acknowledged that while our schools – and schools across the country – are at the epicenter of the cultural and political divide happening nationally, it is our responsibility as adults to do better for our young people.  By better, I mean modeling respectful, thoughtful, productive civil discourse.  By better, I mean ensuring every student, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic situation, ethnicity, cultural background, mental health struggles, disability, or ability knows that they are important and valued. I want our students to know that we care about every one of them, and that we are here to support them as they seek their place in the world.

I shared my thoughts that evening because unfortunately, over the course of the last weeks and months, conversations in the community have been rife with untruths, conjecture, and incomplete information, all of which is becoming untenable.  To ensure you have the facts, I am going to address several issues that are occurring in our district, and while it makes for a lengthy message, I do hope you will take the time to review it for a more complete understanding of what has transpired in each situation. 

LENAPE MIDDLE SCHOOL PROTESTS

A Lenape Middle School teacher was placed on paid leave on Friday, May 6, 2022.  Since then, a narrative quickly circulated that the action was taken because of the teacher's advocacy for LGBTQAI+ students.  This characterization is categorically untrue, and disturbing. My expectation is that our district administration, faculty and staff support all student populations, including LGBTQAI+ students. As the adults, it is our imperative to set the conditions for students to interact with one another in an environment of respect and tolerance for others’ differences. Furthermore, we enthusiastically support clubs like the Gay Straight Alliance and other similar organizations that provide a community for students.

The insinuation that our district would single out a teacher and take disciplinary action because the teacher supports LGBTQIA+ students is defamatory, and from what has transpired over the past week, it is also inflammatory. Like any organization that employs a work force, we cannot comment on specific personnel matters; however, I can tell you that all faculty and staff must adhere to a process for reporting potentially harmful events and situations, a process that exists to support student safety.  We are currently conducting an evaluation of this particular situation and expect to have a determination on the teacher’s employment status in the coming weeks.

Understandably, there were students who were upset by this action, and we completely respect their right to demonstrate their support for this teacher.  However, what ensued on Thursday, May 12 at Lenape Middle School spanned far beyond merely expressing disagreement or disappointment. What happened at Lenape that day was blatantly inappropriate, and to make matters worse, it has been reported inaccurately, particularly on social media. Here is a summary of the facts:

Tuesday, May 10

  • Upon arrival to school, a small group of 5-6 students assembled outside to demonstrate their support of the teacher on paid leave. These students did not report to their classes that morning.  The building principal communicated to these students the district’s requirement to inform their parents that they were not in school (as is the case with all other absences), and parents were notified.  During the lunch periods, other students made their way to and from the outside cafeteria courtyard, as they are allowed to and often do, with some engaging with the protesting students.  The demonstrating students remained outside all day until school dismissal.  Their time outside the school during school hours qualified as an unexcused absence.

 Wednesday, May 11

  • A small group of students continued their protest as they had the day prior. This was a second consecutive, unexcused absence.
  • On Wednesday morning, Lenape’s principal, assistant principal, and school counselor met with a parent, an adult sibling of a Lenape student, and a community member who is not a CBSD parent to discuss how to best support our students’ right to engage in civil discourse while not disrupting the educational environment.
  • Later that day, a social media post by an outside group was distributed to the community, asking for community members to organize in cars and make their way to the Lenape parking lot to honk horns and demonstrate while school was in session.
  • Knowing this was going to take place, and considering the potential it carried to cause a substantial disruption to the learning environment (and endanger students who were outside as part of their classes), CBSD notified security and local law enforcement to assist with minimizing the disruption.
  • Community members arrived in cars, bypassed security and proceeded to honk horns and wave signs while students and teachers were in classes (one car even drove over the curb to do so). Eventually, security was able to gain control and move the vehicles and demonstrators off the property

 Thursday, May 12

  • A small group of students continued their protest as they had the days prior.
  • The building principal and assistant principal were addressing the residual impact of everything that happened thus far, and were also attending to Keystone testing; as a result, members of the central office administrative team (including members of our pupil services team and social workers) were onsite to assist with maintaining order.
  • The central office team and pupil services teams coordinated social workers and counselors via a trauma-informed approach, and asked the demonstrating students to meet and discuss how to move forward in a more productive manner. The administrators also needed to communicate to the students that after a third consecutive day of unexcused absence, the district, according to PA State Department of Education requirements, would be required to report them as truant.
  • As the students began to make their way inside, the same adult who was with them on Wednesday (the community member who is not a CBSD parent) stopped the students, suggesting they shouldn’t proceed inside without her.
  • In an attempt to avoid further disruption, since the students were amenable to coming inside, administrators agreed to include the non-CBSD parent, as she presented herself as the gateway to the students who our administrators sought to support, and because the goal was to meet with the students to forge a solution.
  • The group met for two hours, and at the end of that time, the administrators asked the non CBSD parent (and that person’s non CBSD child) to leave so that the building guidance counselor could meet individually with the students to afford them the opportunity to speak candidly and confidentially. The community member disagreed with central administration’s stance that she was not a welcomed and vetted stakeholder in the process, and eventually the non-CBSD community member and child left the building.
  • Several minutes later during the first lunch period of the day, the same non-CBSD parent and child, along with one CB West high school student, returned to the outside cafeteria at Lenape with pizza, pretzels and candy to lure students who were inside to come outside. The group had protest signs telling the students inside the school cafeteria that they were permitted to come out for free pizza and snacks if they took one of this group’s flyers about the teacher on paid leave.
  • What resulted from this action was, in a word, chaos. Inside the building, Lenape students were incited, and in an attempt to access the free pizza and candy, they began pushing each other to get out the doors, all while the students who were outside when the protest group arrived were trying to get inside to avoid what was becoming a disruptive environment. 
  • Inside the cafeteria, students were pushing each other up against the windows, falling over each other, banging on tables and engaging in recording the protestors. A student with special needs who is non-ambulatory, along with the child’s PCA, were placed in a very dangerous and potentially harmful situation as they attempted to distance themselves from the escalating behaviors caused by this disruption. Additionally, other students with special needs became unsettled by the disruption of these events, resulting in the need for medical attention and other emergency interventions.
  • The Lenape principal attempted to re-establish order and stop students from filming the protestors. Using a microphone, she asked the students to stop and be seated, and she demanded that students delete any video or photos they had taken of the incident, as there was to be no further bullying. This was done in an attempt to keep students safe.

I regret to report that this situation only worsened into the evening of May 12, 2022, courtesy of vitriolic, hateful, profanity-filled phone messages and emails sent to our administrators, including a death threat directed to the principal.

Yesterday, May 16, a community group placed a message on social media encouraging Lenape students to engage in a day of silence tomorrow, Wednesday, May 18th, and to paint the letters SOS on their faces, which represents “Students over Saullo,” a reference to Lenape principal Geanine Saullo. Such a message clearly seeks to disrupt the learning environment, and severely (and completely unfairly) impact the principal’s ability to maintain order in her capacity as principal.

As I clearly stated at the Tuesday, May 10, 2022 Board meeting, every single student in Central Bucks Schools deserves to feel seen, heard, cared for, included, accepted, respected, and loved. Students deserve to view their schools as a safe space to learn and explore the world around them. What happened at Lenape Middle School last week, and what is being encouraged to happen tomorrow by community members is absolutely not the way to achieve that; rather, it is an abomination and an attempt to use students to promote a one-sided narrative.

This is precisely what I meant when I stated that the adults need to do better. We all have an obligation to teach our students how to engage in dissent by modeling the productive, nuanced and respectful behaviors that will someday allow them to successfully manage the inevitable conflicts that will arise in their lives. Navigating conflict, being willing to listen, and seeking to understand the premise of others’ perspectives (especially in the politically and culturally charged environment in which we all live) has never been more crucial, and we as the adults need to be accountable for our students’ growth by committing to mature, civil behaviors that reflect the basic decency and humanity we seek to instill in our young people.

One final note: thanks to the actions of the Lenape administration and the central office teams, every student went home safely that night.

APPROVAL OF RENT

The following is an account of another false narrative being perpetuated by some community members, causing undue and unjust scrutiny on our district and community.

In April, it was reported that Rent, the musical, was being denied as a school production for the CB West Harlequin Club’s fall 2022 performance because the district does not support anything related to homosexuality and other themes portrayed in the show.  Once again this is not true; in fact, Rent was approved once the process in place was actually followed, and we are excited to see the phenomenal performance, as our theater programs are truly spectacular!

PRIDE FLAGS 

Regarding reports that the district has determined that pride flags should be removed from classrooms, this is true, and while we can agree to disagree on this one, the reason for the decision is that the flags, once thought to be a statement of support, are now a flashpoint for controversy and divisiveness in our school buildings.  These flags now represent more than a symbol of a safe space for our LGBTQAI+ students; instead, they have become a symbol of “taking sides.” 

I have never met a teacher, administrator or support staff member in this district who does not support and value ALL our students. Those who work in education care deeply for the academic, social and emotional welfare of students; yet, not every member of our school community feels it is appropriate, let alone necessary, to hang a pride flag in their classrooms. Now, all of a sudden, teachers who have historically demonstrated love, compassion and support for all their students, yet choose not to display these flags, are being questioned and in some cases, labeled as homophobic or intolerant. That is unacceptable on every level imaginable. These flags have taken on a contentiousness that is pulling our focus away from the support and belonging our students deserve, and they are dividing our community at a time that calls for healing.

In my statement, I indicated that it is the compassionate, empathetic and authentic relationships between adults and students that keeps students safe. An adult who listens and works with our students to build and maintain a culture of respect and belonging keeps kids safe. An adult who witnesses an injustice, in any form, and acts upon it in support of the oppressed keeps kids safe. Our students deserve actionable, authentic advocacy on their behalf, and I expect every employee in this district to act with that expectation in mind. I will not permit the collective efficacy of our employees to fall under scrutiny over the display or non-display of any flag; instead, we must endeavor to foster productive relationships  that create safe spaces for our students and a solid foundation for their wellbeing, regardless of how they choose to identify themselves. 

HUMAN GROWTH and DEVELOPMENT

It has also been reported that the district is excluding students who identify as transgender or gender fluid from the Human Growth and Development curriculum. This is inaccurate. This is a curriculum that is taught in 4th through 6th grades that focuses on the anatomy and physiology of male and female bodies, as well as the social and emotional changes that occur with a young person’s physical development. 

This year, we received requests for students to engage with this curriculum according to the sex that they identify with, rather than the sex they were physiologically born. In an effort to be as inclusive and respectful of every student and family, we made the decision to devise a new way of delivering this important curriculum.  We understand that some of our elementary schools had already begun the curriculum before we made that decision, and we do apologize for that; however, when we are made aware of a need, we have an obligation to address it. Moving forward, we have provided families with details of how they can access this curriculum, and we will continue to seek ways to ensure that we are meeting the needs of all our students and their families.

I realize that there is much to digest here and given the climate that exists, I will continue to fact check as we move forward together so we are all working with accurate information. Rather than jumping to conclusions and assuming the worst of the administrators and teachers who are devoted to the students in our schools, we need to coalesce around the basic tenets of decency and respect. After all, our students are watching, and regardless of whether we agree, we all must operate within that awareness. I appreciate your time in reading this, and I will continue to engage with you in an effort to refocus our work on the academic and emotional health and wellness of all students.

Sincerely, 

Abe Lucabaugh, Superintendent of Schools

Dana Hunter, CBSD Board President