The Pennsylvania judge who ordered Tuesday to remove five elected school directors from the nine-member West Chester Area School board, reinstated them Friday. But the saga is not over; they could be booted again.
The five were removed on a technicality. There was a dispute over how much time the school had to respond to a petition filed by West Chester Area School District parent Beth Ann Rosica. In that petition, she calls for the removal of five school board members—Sue Tiernan, Joyce Chester, Karen Herman, Kate Shaw, and Daryl Durnell—for not representing constituents.
Initially, Judge William P. Mahon in the Chester County Court of Common Pleas agreed that the school had missed its deadline to file an answer to the petition, and granted Rosica’s request. But the school argued that it should have had until April 4 to answer. Mahon ordered the parties to appear in court Friday morning for arguments and at that time, said he would issue an order vacating his March 29 order removing the directors, school board attorney Kenneth Roos of the Wisler Pearlstine law firm in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, told The Epoch Times.
Rosica said she has no problem with that.
“The judge didn’t think the school board members should be held responsible for the mistakes of the attorneys, and I think that’s reasonable. I think that that’s fair,” Rosica told The Epoch Times. “The attorneys have to provide an answer to my petition by Monday.”
The petition to remove is based on a seldom-used Pennsylvania education statute that allows for the removal of school directors for “failure to organize or neglect of duty.” Rosica believes there was a failure in the way the board handled its COVID-19 masking policy. When Pennsylvania ended mandatory school masking, the West Chester Area School District continued requiring masking, despite requests from parents to end it.
The district did end up lifting the mask mandate eventually, but it had also passed a health and safety plan that allows the board to impose future mandatory masking at various levels of COVID-19 transmission.
It means the board could require masking again, as long as that allowance is in the health and safety plan. But Rosica says parents don’t want the board to have that much power. Parents want that masking power removed from the safety plan. The board is not listening to parents, she says. That is why she filed the petition.
While the school district must respond to the petition by Monday, Rosica, who is representing herself, says she is in the same place she was a week ago.
“If anything, my case is stronger because the judge acknowledged that the case has merit. It’s not frivolous, it needs to be taken seriously, and he’s going to hold these attorneys accountable to take it seriously and treat me as an equal in this process,” Rosica said. “The only sad part is that as a taxpayer, I’m paying those legal bills, so that doesn’t seem fair, but that’s the way it works.
Rosica is a mother of two students and she is the executive director of Back to School PA, a political action committee that advocated for reopening schools that were closed for about two years by COVID-19 mitigation measures. The group continues political engagement, and says it is working to get pro-parent and pro-student candidates elected to school boards. The group’s former executive director and co-founder, Clarice Schillinger, has left that position to run as a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor.
The school district did not have a comment about the situation but a school spokeswoman said Superintendent Bob Sokolowski wrote a statement updating parents on the status of the school board. In it, he thanked families and the community for their patience and support.
“As I mentioned in the April district newsletter, even in the midst of uncertainty we have so much to be grateful for and I look forward to better and brighter things to come,” Sokolowski said in the statement.
From The Epoch Times