I was told running for the Central Bucks School Board would be simple: get signatures, file the petition, knock on doors, and wait for the votes. But we are now living in a world of right-wing fueled propaganda, healthcare misinformation, smears, death threats, and incessant harassment, and this school board race is anything but simple.
I am Diana Leygerman, and I am running for the Central Bucks School Board, the third-largest district in Pennsylvania located in Bucks County. My decision to run was not an easy one. I knew it would likely take time away from my family and friends and I would have to make certain sacrifices. Yet, I also knew that I am a strong champion for equitable public education, and that outside forces were attempting to dismantle and privatize public education under the guise of “parental choice.” So, I downloaded the paperwork and began the process.
When I started this race, I wasn’t fully aware of the polarizing politics that have seeped their way into our school boards. Even as I followed the COVID-19 mitigation battles all summer of 2020, I figured those would be long gone by the summer of 2021. But today, I see parents across the county screaming at administrators about their misguided fears of Critical Race Theory and against mask mandates. Even in my home of Bucks County, our school board meetings have received press attention for being especially chaotic and rowdy. One board member resigned in early September, citing the bullying and death threats.
As our school boards are tested, they must continue to be staffed by experienced educators and those with strong qualifications, not ideologues. I am a teacher in a charter school in the Port Richmond/Kensington area of Philadelphia. Prior to teaching in Philadelphia, I taught at Central Bucks South and West as a long-term substitute and worked in healthcare marketing as a copywriter. I have been teaching since 2011, and throughout my career, I have been recognized by the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect with the SAFA award given to “leaders who have proven exceptional in their schools, institutions, and communities.” I have earned the respect of administration and colleagues, and have been appointed as the English Department Chair, Instructional Leader, and Teacher Mentorship Coordinator at my school. I received my Master’s degree in Teaching, Learning, and Curriculum from Drexel University and earned a Certificate in Culturally Responsive Literature from Harvard University.
After announcing my candidacy, I have tried to keep my focus on meeting people in my region, making connections, and learning how to navigate this new world of local politics. Still, the amount of intimidation has been taxing. Almost immediately after announcing my campaign, I was met with harassment. I received messages on social media calling me a communist and a “Soros pawn.” Obviously, neither is true by any stretch of the imagination.
The divisiveness was fueled further by outside forces. Paul Martino, a local multi-millionaire and self-described “hardcore Republican,” has started funneling money to divisive candidates. He has recruited local parents to be his mouthpieces at school board meetings and as keyboard warriors on social media. He paid for smears against me and my fellow Democratic candidates.
His money helped create mudslinging political literature, propaganda websites, and the latest “parents over politicians” strategy that has been plastered all over our district. “Parents over Politicians” is an interesting way to say, “We take money from one man who is using us to buy School Board seats for his own political gain.” It’s an oxymoron; it’s gaslighting.
The “Back to School PAC” created and funded by Paul Martino promises to support candidates who will keep our schools open. Yet, after some initial logistical issues with staffing, Central Bucks School District opened all its schools in September of 2020. With proper Covid-19 mitigation and masking, Central Bucks was able to offer families a myriad of options – from in-person learning in elementary, to hybrid and fully virtual options in secondary.
However, even with all the options available, some parents are still unsatisfied. They believe school should be “back to normal” without any mitigation because “COVID-19 doesn’t affect children” and any mitigation is a threat to “parental choice.”
This fringe minority, fueled by the right-wing media and propaganda, is disrupting school board meetings and harassing current Democratic school board directors and candidates. They are also ‘doxing’ parents and medical professionals in the district, including the CEO and CMO of Doylestown Hospital, by publishing their private or identifying information on the internet with the intent to cause harm.
The Democratic candidates in Central Bucks, named CBSD Neighbors United, are a team of incredible and strong parents in the district. We are all individuals and do not succumb to Internet groupthink. While many of our values align, we still find opportunities to respectfully disagree and work out differences in opinion for the benefit of the greater good. Unlike our opponents, we are running a grassroots effort campaign, full of volunteers in the community and paid for by hundreds of donations from parents, community members, teachers, and support staff who believe in us and that our vision for the district will have a positive effect on all our children.
Our slate consists of Dr. Mariam Mahmud, a pediatrician with a passion for mental health and children’s wellbeing; Dr. Tabitha Dell’Angelo, a college professor who teaches future teachers and brings her knowledge of pedagogy and education to the table, Jenine Zdanowicz, a former Marketing VP and a current community organizer who has been actively serving our schools for over 11 years and supports social and emotional wellness, Rob Dugger, an HR executive, who believes in listening to all stakeholders and teaching children to be global citizens, and me, Diana Leygerman – a teacher with a passion for education and the freedom it grants to children.
All five of us are parents in the district, and we want all children to be protected, respected, and included. We believe in listening to experts for guidance and respecting those experts and their advice. We want all children to have the tools they need to succeed and a rigorous curriculum that honors cultures, languages, and life experiences. We want all our students to experience a learning community that is physically and emotionally secure.
Our platform is about our children. While the other side is loud about parental choice, we concentrate on the students themselves. Our goal is to make sure each student is protected and served, and we hope we get to achieve that goal after November 2nd.
Diana Leygerman is a high school English teacher and Department Chair in Philadelphia. She is currently running for the Central Bucks School Board. As a freelance writer, her work has appeared in The Independent, Elle.it, Huffington Post, POPSUGAR, Women’s Health, The Week, and Romper. She divides her energy between work, family, freelancing, and running a school board campaign. She loves coffee, sushi, and books. She enjoys hearty debates, chatting with her kids over dinner, and watching sitcoms with her husband.