MEGAN BADGER / WIRE PHOTO
The Wissahickon School Board voted to close the K-3 elementary school in Ambler at a Jan. 14 meeting, following a recommendation from the administration last June.
By Megan Badger
Wire Managing Editor
The Wissahickon School District is under fire for allegedly discriminating against its Hispanic population in Ambler. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is investigating discrimination surrounding the recent school board decision to close Mattison Avenue Elementary School.
At the Jan. 14 Board of School Directors meeting, during which the board voted to close Mattison Avenue, Ambler resident John Kunzier confronted the board about the federal investigation. Kunzier said he discovered the information on a Facebook page and was surprised that the board had not shared that information with its constituents.
“You all have budget constraints and so do they, so the fact that they’ve actually opened an investigation, that there’s enough information and enough concern that they’ve open an investigation, tells me something,” Kunzier said to the board.
Kunzier presented the board with a letter dated Dec. 18 from the Office of Civil Rights addressed to an unknown recipient. The letter listed two specific complaints regarding discrimination against Hispanic students and parents. The first complaint was regarding the school closure and the effect it would have on the Hispanic population, and the second accused the district of poor communication efforts with Hispanic parents.
“The fact that we have a translator here doesn’t negate the fact that until halfway through the process, we didn’t,” Kunzier said at the meeting. “You may not have done it willingly, but discrimination is not a willingness thing. It’s a fact of what we should be doing, how we should be thinking and how we should be treating each other.
“I’d like to add this into the record if possible, because I think it’s an important piece of information about how this process was run, in our eyes,” he added.
Wissahickon Board of School Directors’ chief negotiator, Scott Wolpert, responded at the meeting by saying that the district does not comment on pending litigation.
However, the district did acknowledge the OCR complaints in a Jan. 28 statement sent via a district-wide email. According to the statement, the school district received notification of the complaint on Dec. 20.
“This complaint was filed over six weeks after the completion of the public hearing related to the school closure issue,” according to the statement. “The complaint curiously makes no mention of the fact that the district provided translation services during the hearing process, nor that the district translated into Spanish various notice and content-based documents during the school closure hearing process.”
Wissahickon School District has appointed a private counsel ito handle its defense, according to the statement.
The district said in the statement that “the allegations are without merit and the district will at all times continue to treat persons of all national origins and races fairly and equally and as required by law.”