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PEEPS strives to unite for kindness, courage, inclusion

The East Penn Board of School Directors heard from four members of the public at the Sept. 12 regular meeting.

Mary Ellen Jackson returned to follow up with information about a parent group she belongs to. The newly-formed organization is called Parents for Equity in East Penn Schools. The Emmaus resident said, “Our mission is to provide a space for parents to come together and unite for kindness, courage and inclusion in order to foster belonging in East Penn Schools.” The group seeks to hold PEEPS events, welcome new families, collaborate with the schools and offer themselves as a resource to serve on committees.

Macungie resident Frank Dumbleton questioned the board about dropping rates of math proficiency scores within the district. He cited Pennsylvania Department of Education statistics from 2012 showing East Penn Schools scored an average of 79.3 percent in math proficiency and advanced. In 2019, scores dropped to 55.7 percent before COVID-19 and dropped again in 2021 to 45 percent during the pandemic, he said.

Barbara Tantaros, of Emmaus, addressed the board about her objections to the about to be adopted revisions to student discipline policies regarding transgender and nonconforming gender individuals. “Refuse to go along with this indoctrination,” Tantaros said.

Emmaus resident Troy Wildasin commented on the code of conduct as well as complaining about the book, “It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, Gender and Sexual Health.” He claimed it was apparently still on the school library shelves at Eyer Middle School. “We are promoting pornography in the middle school,” he said regarding the illustrations. Wildasin said he found this book still listed on the middle school database.

“Why do we have students walking around school dressed up as dogs and cats?” Wildasin asked, “This isn’t the only school. I thought the school was better than this.” He added, “I also heard they are dressing up in chains, dog collars, you name it.”

According to the Emmaus resident, “Another school district, I’m not going to mention them, is also putting kitty litter boxes in the bathrooms!”

Noting that generally addressing the board is not “an interactive process,” School Superintendent Kristen Campbell addressed some of the issues brought up by the speakers during the district update.

Regarding Wildasin’s concerns, she checked around for “It’s Perfectly Normal” in response to an earlier inquiry. “That book is not in any of our school libraries,” she said, “And has not been for several years.”

In response to Director Alisa Bowman’s encouragement to address other concerns, Campbell responded with, “We do not have kitty litter or kitty litter boxes in the bathrooms. Nor do we have students bringing them to school.”

Campbell explained how the state has changed how students are assessed during the last seven years. During this time the district has also implemented programs aimed at improving teaching math, as well as using Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund funds for remedial math instruction.

Director Paul Champagne weighed in with the district’s implementing Ready Math in 2018.

According to the superintendent, the Office of Teaching and Learning has planned a fall data overview for November. This will include data from the various statewide standardized tests and other sources.

Campbell was pleased to announce a smooth beginning to the new school year in the classrooms as well as with transportation. She also listed a variety of school sports victories won by the varsity football team, boys and girls cross-country and the 6-0 girls field hockey team record which puts them first in the nation.

She said parents need to update how they wish to receive school alerts, either by phone call, text or email.

Campbell said federal subsidies have ended for free lunches for all. Families in need will have to reapply for access to free or low-cost meals for their schoolchildren.

In personnel matters, the majority of directors agreed to the resignations of health, wellness, fitness teacher Lisa Wells effective Aug. 23 and family and consumer science teacher Nicole Yaghi, effective Oct. 21 from Emmaus High School.

They accepted the retirement of Berta Rondon as food support staff from Shoemaker Elementary School at the end of October.

Approved new hires include Laura Baranek as school counselor at EHS, effective Nov. 14, as well as health room nurses Kathy Allwein for Lower Macungie Middle School, Amber Barnes for Jefferson Elementary School and Melisa Johnson for Willow Lane Elementary School, all effective Sept. 13.

The vote on personnel was 8-1. Director Adam Smith did not publicly state why he voted no.

The directors unanimously approved and adopted updates to student discipline policies. These included student expression/distribution and posting materials, controlled substances/paraphernalia, electronic devices and nonschool organizations, groups and individuals.

Lehigh Career & Technical Institute has scheduled showcase tours for eighth grade students Oct. 17-28, according to Champagne. LTCI was given the Southern Regional Education Board 2021-22 Pacesetter Award for success with their “Making Schools Better Program.”

Three LTCI students won awards in a recent national skill competition.

Champagne mentioned the Pennsylvania Department of Education is providing free breakfasts and lunches at the tech school.

The directors voted unanimously to support a slate of Pennsylvania School Boards Association candidates for 2023 recommended by the PSBA Leadership Development Committee. They include Michael Gossert for president-elect, Allison Mathis for vice president, Karen Beck Pooley as Section E2 Advisor and Kathy K. Swope and Roberta M. Marcus to serve as PSBA Insurance Trust Trustees.

Board President Joshua Levinson announced an executive session was held Sept. 8 on “personnel” and another before the Sept. 12 public forum on “real estate and confidential matters.”

The next regular school board meeting is scheduled Sept. 26. The public can access documents through BoardDocs via a link on the district website. Livestreaming of meetings is available on the district’s YouTube channel.