Members of East Penn community hold meeting to discuss concerns over district education


On Tuesday nearly 80 East Penn residents gathered at Macungie Memorial Hall to hear about critical race theory within the district – instead, they heard about low math scores, a decline in student life skills, and the overreach of teaching morals and values.

The group that hosted the meeting, Restoring Excellence in East Penn Education, is composed of concerned district taxpayers. They aim to raise awareness regarding the “current EPSD curriculum and teacher training regarding race, equity, gender identity, and the burdens these policies impose on [the] children,” the group’s Facebook page describes. They distributed a flier on Primary Election Day last month. 

The pamphlet offered to inform recipients about the “language” and “effects” of CRT in the school district. The meeting attracted attendees from both sides of the aisle, including group members, East Penn students and staff, and three lead speakers in the presentation, which began with a group prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance.

The meeting remained largely civil between audiences who shared different views of its contents; EHS senior Amanda Blagbrough, who was president of the school’s Republican Club,  helped facilitate the meeting, speaking to attendees on both sides. 

“I don’t care where you stand [politically]; that’s where I’m at. I’m a kid and I don’t have an agenda,” Blagbrough said. “I just want everyone’s voices to be heard. I want to be proud of the adults in the East Penn School District. That is my number one priority.”

Throughout the meeting, the group touched upon three key concerns: math proficiency, student preparation for the future, and parent roles in their students’ lives – there was no discussion of CRT. 

Leading the meeting was REEPE member Frank Dumbleton. The first topic he spoke on was the group’s concern about PSSA math scores that they say are too low for East Penn.

Dan Hoffman, an Emmaus alum, parent to graduates, and husband to a member of REEPE, Debra Hoffman, said he has concern over the math data that was shared. He is also “curious” as to why English proficiency scores were not presented, as he believes them to be “equally as bad.”

“Aside from everything else that’s going on, I pay the school district to educate [students],” Hoffman said. “And if those numbers are indeed representative of the job they’re doing, then I’m not getting what I’m paying for, and that troubles me.”

Dumbleton acknowledged that the group will go to the school board with concerns about math proficiency, “in some fashion.”

The second speaker of the evening, Colt Hershinger, discussed the lack of preparation for the future offered to students of EHS.

Hershinger owns and operates Eden East Ltd, a landscaping company in Emmaus that often hires young adults, both high school and college-aged. Overall, he described a lack of care on the part of his student employees for their own futures. 

In his speech, he referenced his employees’ lack of ability to write checks, sign their names, and correctly read measuring tools. According to Hershinger, some of his employees have gone into credit card debt and still refuse to get their driver’s licenses, illegally driving to and from work.

Hershinger went on to compare today’s students with those of ten years ago, stating that this previously “wouldn’t have been an issue.”

After the meeting adjourned, Hershinger elaborated on what he believes to be the causes of this gap in preparation. He stated that too much emphasis is placed on CRT and not enough on necessary life skills, such as paying taxes, opening a bank account, and understanding a credit score. 

In Hershinger’s opinion, teachers should not talk about race or gender in any way and should stick to traditional subjects such as math, English, history, and science. 

After Hershinger finished his section of the presentation, Dumbleton shifted the audience’s focus to the third concern of the evening: how much control teachers should have in teaching morality to children as compared to their parents. 

According to Dumbleton, parents should be solely responsible for teaching their children morality and ideologies and teachers should remain in their subjects. 

The topic of transparency within the district, specifically the lack thereof, found itself the focus of many discussions throughout the night. Group members shared how many of their concerns could be rectified by the district being transparent about test scores and their children’s education. 

Debra Hoffman, a member of the Research and Publication Committee within REEPE, does not believe Social Emotional Learning (SEL) should have the prominence it does right now within East Penn.

“The Social Emotional Learning subject has been a big issue that a lot of people that come to our meetings are passionate about [and are] very concerned about the time spent on it, and we feel time should be spent more on academics,” Hoffman said.

Although CRT was not brought up during the meeting, after its adjournment, Dumbleton stated that the topic “falls under” the third concern of teaching values in schools.

After the meeting concluded, another member of the REEPE Research and Publication Committee, Sarah Taylor, explained her perspective on CRT.

“CRT [are] the words that those opponents use because that’s where it started. But the schools will say ‘We don’t teach CRT.’ Well, no they don’t teach it under the name of CRT. They teach it under the name of diversity, equity, and inclusion. It’s the same thing,” Taylor said. “And CRT started out as a college-level academic look at the legal system and how it’s unfair to African Americans, or to black people – a very legitimate cause, very legitimate. I mean, I don’t think anybody would have any question about the fact that African Americans are oppressed when it comes to the law…”

Hoffman went on to describe a story told to her personally by a mother about a conversation she had with her third-grade daughter. The mother had said her daughter came home from school one day saying she feels “guilty” that she is white because she feels “sorry for the black people.”

“What we believe is being seen across the country is that the way race is being emphasized is creating more divisions amongst races instead of unity,” Hoffman said. “There’s no reason a third grader should feel guilty for things that happened, you know, 200 years ago or more; it’s not good.”

East Penn Superintendent, Dr. Kristen Campbell, did not attend the meeting and denies that the district teaches CRT. She emphasizes the district’s transparency: citing the Panorama, the Diversity & Equity survey results from the fall, Tiered Supports for academic and behavior support, and Social Emotional Learning (SEL) for student development.

“East Penn uses the [Panorama] student surveys that help us to determine our effectiveness in creating safe and engaging learning environments. Specifically, we administer student surveys on SEL (grades 3-12) and equity and inclusion (grades 6-12),” Campbell said. “Parents are provided with notification of the surveys, offered the opportunity to review all survey questions, and opt their children out of the survey.”

Before the meeting was held, Emmaus social studies teacher John Gallagher and his colleagues are “on the same page” on the matter of CRT allegedly being embedded into the curriculum – it is “flat out” not happening in the district, or in his classroom.

“I’m a professional educator, and well-experienced and well-effective,” Gallagher said. “It is concerning when everything I do is put under a microscope because a group or a person even mistakenly thinks I’m teaching something when I’m really not. ”

EHS sophomore Tami Adesanya shared a different perspective on CRT’s role in classrooms. 

“I think it’s surface-level taught. [CRT is] more taught about the history and not all history and critical race theory is treated as like something that needs to be checked off the list,” Adesanya said. “It’s just slavery. Rosa Parks, just things that everybody has been taught, since like they were in kindergarten. But, just put it into different words to make it sound like it’s been elevated.”

Attendees of the meeting came with concerns outside of the three discussion topics, but ones that still fell under the umbrella of keeping children in the district safe; concerned grandparent and district taxpayer, Bill Allen, was one of them. 

After sitting in on his 16-year-old granddaughter’s classes on Zoom for an entire school year, as a student at EHS, Allen felt it was his responsibility to speak out about discrepancies in what her teachers were covering in their classrooms, specifically conversations about global warming he found to be politically-charged.

Despite his emphasis on the one-sided instruction he believes is occurring in the classroom, his main concern fell in the category of sexualizing children in the district. Allen believes that CRT has been around for 70 years and is being snuck into our schools through sexual books in the library, describing this as “indoctrination” –  listing books found in libraries in the West Chester Area School District, including titles such as George and All Boys Aren’t Blue. 

Taylor brought up a similar instance brought up by another mother in attendance at one of REEPE’s meetings. Taylor shares the concern that schools are overstepping when it comes to teaching values.

“If you walk into the Eyer library, [they have] a large selection of books. The first thing you see, apparently, is on gender fluidity, transgender,’’ Taylor said. “And the funny thing is, the covers on these books like one woman said – one lady who comes here – her daughter brought it home because there was a pretty rainbow and a butterfly on the front and she loved rainbows and butterflies.”

“Well, on the inside, it’s completely against this mother’s value system,” Taylor said. “So at this point, there is a deep concern that this will continue and get deeper and deeper.”

Meeting attendants stressed that these topics are for parents to cover with their children, not schools.

“Parents teach values, schools teach math, science, and history,” Allen said. “The district has gotten out of its lane. Sexuality should not come into play in school.”

Presenters abruptly adjourned the gathering. Moving forward, organizers have said meetings are no longer open to the public. Instead, they are closed off to anyone except for members of the group and their invited guests.