When it came to sharing his thoughts on Pennsbury School District’s recently-announced “Educational Equity” policy, former school board member Simon Campbell did not hold back.
Not only did the Lower Makefield resident call for the immediate termination of Dr. Cherrissa Gibson, who was appointed the district’s first director of equity, diversity and education in 2020, he referred to board president Christine Toy-Dragoni as “Benito Mussolini” for allowing heated portions of public comment to be edited out of previous meeting recordings.
“It seems to me that you can supersede the United States Constitution,” said Campbell, calling the current board “snowflakes.”
In the days following the monthly meeting, Campbell’s comments went viral after radio show host and author Daniel John Bongino shared the clip on his social media pages. To date, it has received over 1 million views. Bongino called Campbell’s remarks “epic.” Campbell also spoke with Fox News’ Laura Ingraham.
Campbell was not alone in his opposition. Over the span of an hour, nearly every public comment spiritedly denounced Pennsbury’s new equity policy, which “will serve as the foundation of all decision-making to ensure equitable outcomes for every learner.”
Gibson and the Pennsbury administration have been promoting “social-emotional learning,” but parents think this is another term for “critical race theory.” Britannica states that critical race theorists “hold that the law and legal institutions in the United States are inherently racist insofar as they function to create and maintain social, economic and political inequalities between whites and non-whites, especially African Americans.”
The general consensus among parents was that the children of Pennsbury don’t see race, but this equity work would change that and separate them by the color of their skin. They think it would teach students of color that they’re “marginalized” because all white people are inherently racist. Additionally, they believe the “equitable outcomes” portion of the policy will give students of color a free pass at success, which they said is demeaning to them rather than helpful.
“Equity is everyone getting the same result whether they work for it or not,” said mother of three Liza Martin, whose son had an IEP in school but taught himself electrical work and is now a boss. “Obstacles make us who we are. I hate watching my kids struggle. It’s the worst thing for every parent. But every person has their set of hurdles they have to overcome. What would life be like if you never got to experience victory?”
Martin said that segregating students by race, gender and sexual orientation borders on Communism and Marxism.
Another commenter stepped up to the microphone with an armful of books, all allegedly part of Gibson’s recommended reading material. The books included White Fragility and White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America as well as the children’s book 10,000 Dresses, which features a little boy using female pronouns. She thought these concepts are inappropriate for children to be exposed to in the classroom.
A grandmother of two raised concerns that students will be taught a “skewed” version of history that focuses on the negatives of historic figures like Christopher Columbus.
Resident Tim Daly, whose public comment opportunity was cut short during the May meeting, asked the board why it’s dismissing the will of its constituents.
“The community does not want changes to curriculum. It’s clear,” he said. “What we do want is real training to the teachers so they can better address the kids and help them do better. We want the district to apply more diversity in its hiring practices.”
One mother, whose daughter is biracial and autistic, doesn’t want her to feel more separated from her peers than she already does.
“I really don’t want to give her any more excuses to further isolate herself or make herself a demographic,” she said, adding that tax dollars should be used for more IEP resources rather than “social-emotional learning.”
In response to everything he heard that evening, Superintendent Dr. William Gretzula, who is officially retired, stood by Gibson and her equity work.
“Our community has tried to label our curriculum work as the indoctrination of CRT, critical race theory. We have always said, this is about kids seeing themselves represented in the curriculum, not dividing kids, putting them in a box, separating them. So the language I hear tonight is not the language we’ve spoken. It’s the language that people have chosen to label our work,” said Gretzula. “We want our children to feel represented in our curriculum decisions, see themselves in the characters, in the settings, in the histories. And learning multiple histories doesn’t mean learning multiple histories at the expense of another.”
Gretzula went on to say that equity in Pennsbury aims to celebrate the diversity of every child and family.
“Kids deserve equitable outcomes,” he said. “That doesn’t mean equal outcomes. It’s equitable.”
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org