Central Bucks faces several issues that divide our community—yet making the right decisions on those issues could make our schools more effective for all our students. November’s election will determine CB’s path in the next couple of years. There is a lot at stake.
Our schools could be places where all children know they belong and see themselves reflected in books, curriculum, and classroom discussions, which foster dignity and teach tolerance. Teachers could be respected as the trained professionals they are, offered ample opportunities to learn more, and encouraged to use the curriculum as a jumping-off point to allow for student engagement and interest. Librarians could be trusted to curate age-appropriate collections that speak to the full range of kids. Parents could know they are active partners with these professionals to help guide their own children’s education.
But lavishly funded national groups push a different agenda. M4L, Betsy DeVos, Christopher Rufo, and Steve Bannon seek to eliminate the Department of Education, discredit public schools, and replace our community schools with for-profit, unregulated, private charter schools. Hence, book bans, gag orders on teachers, and pending anti-trans athletics policy all undermine trust in our schools and divide our community.
Some of our neighbors—and our school board majority– have been taken in by the false narrative. They claim problems where we have none (there are no prurient books in our libraries, and no teacher seeks to alter the identity or beliefs of their students), and they deny the problems that we do have.
We do have a problem with the bullying and harassment of LGBTQ+ youth, according to 6 families’ complaints, the Department of Education’s ongoing investigation of these claims, numerous pleas from students and parents at school board meetings, and the Pennsylvania Youth Survey, which showed a rise in student-observed bullying (73-116% increase in bullying related to gender and 80-122% increase in bullying due to sexual orientation). Yet our board majority members have enacted policies that undermine inclusivity.
We do not have a problem with teachers using their position to persuade kids along political lines. Yet our board has restricted teachers’ speech and expression, focusing specifically on removing Pride flags, refusing students’ requests for name and pronoun use unless specifically authorized by their parents, and restricting classroom discussion of partisan, political, and social policy to curriculum only.
We do not have a problem with inappropriate books in our library. Some challenged books have been there for twenty years or more, and no child or parent ever complained before last year. Yet our school board has made removing books from the library easier.
It costs roughly $1000 to put a book through the challenge process. Two people have challenged 60+ books. No one believes that the people who challenged the books actually read them—they merely heard about them from one of the national agitating groups. So far, CB has banned two books: Gender Queer and This Book is Gay, although the committees that voted to ban them report that their hands were tied: according to the new, restrictive library policy, they had no choice, despite their judgment that the books were appropriate for some students. Since then, our administration has halted the committee meetings, perhaps recognizing that the community does not support this anti-educational trend.
We hope to see it halted forever. We hope to see policies that foster communication, not demands. We hope to see cooperation, not conflict. We hope to see collaboration among all our families, school personnel, and school board members to create schools where all students thrive.
November’s election could determine the future of how children in our community are educated: what our kids learn, what books they read, equity for marginalized kids, how U.S. history is taught, and whether our tax dollars will fund school choice.
By joining together, speaking up at school board meetings, and voting in local elections, we will protect the right of every child to an education that prepares them for the future. We can only accomplish our best schools by making room for all our citizens. This is not warfare. It’s not an either/or zero-sum game. This year’s election is about whether we can unite around what’s best for our children, schools, and community.
E pluribus unum.
Katherine Semisch is a writer and retired high school English teacher. She taught for 27 years in the Central Buck School District and is the proud mother of three CB grads and the grandmother of one. She is the co-founder with Kate Nazemi of Advocates for Inclusive Education: Bucks County, which aims to strengthen our community schools and advocate for a stupendous education for ALL kids. She lives in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, with her husband.
Learn More: advocatesforinclusiveeducation.org