The student news site of Emmaus High School



The student news site of Emmaus High School



Politics, polarization grip school board

Canva by Sophia Baker.

This story previously ran in our October 2023 print issue.

As two slates compete for control of the school board in an environment more polarized than ever, tensions have spiked dramatically. Both slates are backed by political action committees (PACs), which aid the respective candidates with funding and campaigning. The all-Republican slate is backed by the Your Voice on the Board (YVOTB) PAC, and the Lehigh Valley for All and Valley Values PACs have supported the bipartisan slate in response. The Valley Value’s main campaign is known as “Defend East Penn.”

Despite the collaborative design of the PACs, the slates have not operated in complete harmony: although endorsed by YVOTB, Republican Matthew Mull opted to run an individual campaign as well.

“I’m not really part of the slate. I know we use that word and this was my own naivety coming into this race. There are four other candidates that initially ran [on the slate]. We were all endorsed by Your Voice on the Board,” Mull said.

Referencing attacks made against some candidates, such as Republican Angelic Schneider, Mull explained it was a distraction for him to deal with allegations made against his slate members instead of focusing on his own campaign.

As the race has continued, Many East Penn residents, including several candidates, can recall no election as polarized as this one. Jankowski, a 1992 Emmaus graduate, recalled only one election as divided as this one, shortly after he graduated.

“There was a period of time where it was political, and there were issues with some of the board members who got on and were putting politics ahead of the interests of the community and the students,” Jankowski said. “But this [election] is the worst it’s been and it’s unfortunate.”

Many candidates noted the intensifying politicization that has plagued the election, beginning with the primary elections earlier this year.

In May 2023, less than a week before the primary election, former school board member and Lehigh University professor Ziad Munson published a post on his blog, Munson4EastPenn, accusing Republican Angelic Schneider of running a fraudulent business. Schneider’s husband, Chad, owns Metro Beauty Academy (MBA), which the Department of Justice (DOJ) accused of running a diploma mill and that “the school falsely sought federal student aid for students ineligible to receive such aid.” MBA settled with the DOJ for $425,000 in 2020.

Schneider has repeatedly refuted any claims of legal connection with MBA, and after filing a cease and desist letter against Munson (a school board member from 2013-2021), is currently litigating against him for defamation.

The opposing slate and the PACs supporting them have allegedly also made similar statements in their campaign materials, according to Schneider, accusing her slate of being “extremists, book banners, and business frauds.”

Schneider had previously claimed on her web page of YVOTB that “she and her husband have owned and operated a cosmetology and esthetics trade school for the last 16 years,” but has taken that part down since. Her biography now reads, “She has had the opportunity to work in a cosmetology and esthetic trade school for the last 16 years.” She declined further comment on the issue due to her current lawsuit against Munson.

Munson said he put these statements out to the public because he believed Schneider was not being authentic and honest with the public as to whether or not she owned MBA. In contrast, he said, he supports candidates who are transparent about their background.

“I’ve publicly endorsed two sitting board members, who I served with when I was on the board, and I did not always agree with them and we occasionally voted in different ways about important issues,” Munson said. “Since I’ve left the board, they haven’t always voted in the ways I wanted them to. But, I recognize them as people of integrity and people who do not have an ideological ax to grind with the district, who are not there with a particular agenda. I support them because of their integrity.”

In the same post, Munson also accused Republican candidate Paul Barbehenn of amplifying extremist views. Barbehenn denied Munson’s allegations, stating that he has “zero interest in playing the game of politics with somebody like Mr. Munson.”

Similarly, Mull also condemned both allegations, affirming his belief that they are both false.

“I think Mr. Munson is unfortunately very partisan,” Mull said. “He always has been. And I find it disappointing that a former school board member wouldn’t do his research before making the commentary that he has.”

Schneider agreed with Mull, describing Munson as “a political activist who prides himself in extremism and pushing the envelope.”

Despite the intense politicization of the race, including several hot-button issues, candidates are still determined to keep politics out of their decisions if elected to the school board, believing that such partisanship would only hurt the district.

“Compared to the majority of other candidates, I have no political agenda,” Mull said. “I don’t believe in going negative and attacking others. Unfortunately, this race has become that.”

Other candidates, including Barbehenn and DePaolo agreed, saying that they had no plan to bring their political beliefs into implementation of school board policy. Many on the bipartisan slate, including EPSB President Joshua Levinson and Jankowski note the fact that their slate includes both Republicans and Democrats as an asset. They believe that their diverse viewpoints and opinions will help to make the district more inclusive without political agendas.

The EHS Activism Club recently held a forum for all candidates on Oct. 20, with all candidates except Huyssen and Kelly in attendance. Several YVOTB candidates mentioned at the forum that they had been accused of collaborating with Moms for Liberty, a group they publicly denounced. Moms for Liberty, a nationwide organization including a Lehigh County chapter, has been classified as extreme and anti-government by the Southern Poverty Law Center, focusing primarily on book banning.

The candidates also denied any association with Restore Excellence in East Penn (REEPE), a right-wing group formed two years ago by Lehigh County Republican Committee member Frank Dumbleton. Dumbleton has aided the Republican candidates with campaigning, but YVOTB members have still tried to distance themselves from him.

“Our candidates decided that it was wise as a strategy to run at arm’s length from us. They believe what we believe. They’re against all this woke nonsense, but the strategy is ‘They’re not REEPE,’” Dumbleton said at a Moms for Liberty chapter meeting, according to a recording obtained by The Morning Call. YVOTB members have since denied Dumbleton’s claims, and also described Moms for Liberty as extremists. In denying his statements, Paul Barbehenn emphasized the only reason they ever associated with Dumbleton was because his help was considered essential to running a successful campaign.

“Unfortunately, Frank [Dumbleton] also has a role inside the local Republican party,” Barbehenn said. “And so avoiding Frank altogether would have been very difficult. He is the guy inside the party who’s been charged with helping candidates get elected to the East Penn School Board. Because of how the two-party system works, you have to run things through one of the parties.” Despite this, Barbehenn said that in hindsight, he would not have accepted Dumbleton’s invitation to attend the first REEPE meeting.

The bipartisan slate also recognizes the polarization that has taken place throughout the election, noting how they want to protect EPSD from extremism that has taken over neighboring districts.

“I think the recent rise again of extremist policies that are going on in many school districts, you don’t have to go very far to look at what’s going on in a place like Pennridge or Central Bucks,”Levinson said. “From the standpoint of not wanting to see that happen to East Penn, I think that’s what gave rise to Defend East Penn, in order to put in what I would turn pro-education candidates on the board in order to not allow the door to open for extremism to enter the district.”

Many accusations about YVOTB’s extremism stem from a $5,000 donation the PAC received from Paul Martino, a millionaire who resides in Central Bucks. Martino has previously funded conservative candidates across the state despite never meeting with them. Candidates that Martino supported in Central Bucks have attempted to censor many books in the district. Several YVOTB candidates noted that Martino had never met nor communicated with them, and had not made an additional donation after the primary election and condemned book banning.

Republican Tim Kelly, who is running on the bipartisan slate, agreed he did not want to see extremism come to East Penn.

“Am I far right? The answer to that is no,” Kelly said. “There are loud and aggressive Republicans and then there are ones that are kind of middle road and I’m not trying to impose my beliefs on other people.”

As the race culminates in the final weeks, politicization has gripped the election. Despite this, candidates intend to keep their promises and better the district to make it more equitable for all.

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About the Contributors
Ayaan Shah
Ayaan Shah, Editor-in-Chief
This is Ayaan's third year on The Stinger. He is a member of Academic Team, Varsity Chess Team, President of Chess Club, and Treasurer of World Cultures Club, in addition to being a member of NHS. Ayaan is also a member of the Student Press Law Center's New Voices program, which is dedicated to passing protective state legislation for student journalists. He won first place for editorial writing in the 2023 Keystone Media Awards and third place in the 2023 Pennsylvania Press Club high school journalism contest. In 2024 he won second place for ongoing news coverage of the EPSD Board elections, and also won the $500 statewide diversity champion scholarship award from the Keystone NewsMedia Association. He also won First Place in editorial writing for the 2024 Pennsylvania Press Club competition in addition to several honorable mentions. Prior to becoming Editor-in-Chief, Ayaan was the Managing Opinion Editor, and a Deputy News Editor prior to that. Outside of school, Ayaan enjoys reading history books, writing, and shaping bonsai trees.
Carina McCallum
Carina McCallum, Opinion Editor
This is Carina’s second year on The Stinger. At Emmaus, she is Secretary of the Red Cross Club, as well as a member of EHS’s Science Fair, Model UN, National Honor Society, Student Mentors, and Hornet Ambassadors. In her free time, Carina likes reading, baking, and spending time with friends.

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