Friday, February 16, 2024

PA: Central Bucks Culture Panic Board Members Consider Their Options

Central Bucks School District suffered through a couple of years as a poster child for MAGA Moms For Liberty takeover of a school board. Now that the winds have shifted, some of the former board culture warriors are spilling tears and beans.

Central Bucks drew national attention for implementing a wave of conservative policies. They instituted a book banning policy, aided by the Independence Law Firm, the legal arm of the Pennsylvania Family Institute ("Our goal is for Pennsylvania to be a place where God is honored, religious freedom flourishes, families thrive, and life is cherished.") They banned pride flags. They suspended a teacher who defended LGBTQ students. They implemented a policy that required the school to out LGBTQ students with a "gender identification procedure". No student name changes allowed without a note from home. Both the ACLU and the U.S. Department of Education came after the district for creating a hostile environment for LGBTQ students-- so they hired a noted anti-LGBTQ lawyer to do an internal investigation; the resulting report might not have been entirely forthcoming (but it was expensive).

The community responded by flipping the board big time in the last election, despite some heavy investment by right wing activists. Even then, conservative lame duck board members were not done with their shenanigans, voting their loyal right-wing superintendent a big fat severance package when he retired

So how have things been going since then? What options are the disempowered folks considering.

Well, one former member of the block is now a lot less coy about her connections while on the board. Leigh Vlasblom was board vp; now she's on the staff of the Leadership Institute as a school board trainer/researcher. The Leadership Institute is a right wing advocacy group focused on getting The Right People into elected positions. Moms For Liberty co-founder Bridget Ziegler worked in the LI school board leadership division until she resigned recently over some legal and moral issues with her husband and another woman.

Vlasblom's page on the Leadership Institute website notes many of her previous credits (US Department of Education, Elizabeth Dole campaign), and it also notes, in the paragraph about her school board tenure, that she "worked extensively with PA Family Institute, Independence Law Firm, Keeping Kids in School PAC, Hope 4 PA, and Bucks Families for Leadership." While lots of folks figured out that the culture panic board group was getting some of these outside organizations to write policy for them, this is one of the first times that anyone on the inside has been clear about the connections. Certainly not back when board members were stonewalling "Who actually wrote this" questions.

Meanwhile, the remaining conservative members, now in the minority, have been getting cranky about allegedly being on the receiving end of behavior they allegedly used to dish out. There's still work going on to undo some of their damage, like trying to claw back the huge bonus for the former super, and hiring a lawyer more in tune with the board's priorities.

After the last particularly contentious meeting, with members Debra Cannon and Lisa Sciscio refusing to take personnel matters to a closed door session. After that drama, witnesses say the two publicly quit the board (though they haven't yet turned in any official letters to that effect). 

If the dream is to get back to a board that focuses primarily on operating a school district that educates students, then Central Bucks seems to have a ways to go yet. I suppose taking their ball and going home is one way for the minority members to aid in the process. 

This is one of the problems of an authoritarian mindset focused on raw exercise of power-- it may work for you when you have the power, but you never get to hold onto that power forever, and if raw power is the only trick you know, then once you've lost it, you're pretty much out of options except either going home to sulk or getting a job with someone who works in the authoritarian raw power business. Best wishes to Vlasblom, Cannon and Sciscio as they try to work it out. 

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