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Reflection on the Last Board Meeting Before I Take My Seat

This past week’s Central Bucks School Board meeting should have been a celebration of achievements by our students and faculty, an expression of gratitude for our departing members, relevant input from the community, and the execution of district business. It started off with just that. Then, the meeting devolved, as it occasionally does, around public comment.

Over the past year the majority of public comment had been used for legitimate reasons directly related to the business of the board. The commenters represent a wide range of perspectives, all of which are appreciated. On the other hand, we have seen misinformation, conspiracy theories, and most recently, highly problematic rhetoric that is truly dangerous and divisive.

While it seems there is little that can be done to curtail the first amendment rights of public commenters, I was most surprised at the applause from some of the attendees. As an aside, the increase in applause at meetings has me wondering whether public comment has become more of a performance than useful public action.

I am not for censorship. Free speech is essential in a democracy. As a man told me outside the School Board meeting on Tuesday night, “Let them talk, then at least you know who people are.” My resistance to censorship extends to curriculum. If schools are to prepare our children for the real world, they should be teaching a complete history. School is a place where children can begin to process what they see in the news under the guidance of trained professionals. This is not new. Fred Rogers discussed the death of John F. Kennedy and civil rights on his show in a developmentally appropriate way. If children are old enough to experience loss and discrimination, they are old enough to talk about those issues. In fact, keeping children in the dark encourages the possibility of more fear and misunderstanding. So, let me reiterate, I am not for censorship.

Let’s break down just a bit of what was said on Tuesday night. Two speakers in particular shared views that were at the very least hurtful and potentially dangerous. One speaker noted, “People are attending the school boards because if they want diversity education… transgender, he has the right to go into the women’s bathroom and rape her.” I have so much to say about this. First, this kind of talk can easily incite those who already hold negative feelings about transgender children to target them. This comment feeds the false belief that people in the LGBTQ+ community are dangerous. Equally important is that this rhetoric reinforces a lie about what happened in Virginia. If you haven’t heard, a young girl was raped in a bathroom in Virginia. What she endured is awful and her abuser should be punished harshly and appropriately. However, what happened to her was not the result of policies related to transgender bathrooms, which were implemented nearly 3 months after the assault took place. That claim was promoted in an attempt to foment culture wars and stir up fears. It is simply not true. The survivor was assaulted by someone with whom she had a relationship. They agreed to meet in that bathroom, but then he assaulted her, and has since been found guilty in juvenile court, as is appropriate. The assailant was not “allowed” in the girls’ bathroom and gender identity never came up in his trial. It’s true that both the victim and assailant said the assailant was wearing a “skirt,” but that does not make a person transgender. Tying this to the transgender community is unfair, untrue, and dangerous.

The second comment from another Doylestown resident began with promoting his website. A cursory look at his website reveals that he is deeply invested in myriad conspiracy theories, including that the attacks on 9/11/2001 were a Jewish conspiracy. His complete comment is filled with falsehoods including using a long-debunked quote from Manachem Begin, accusing the local Jewish community of being involved in organized crime, and somehow putting Zionism and Communism in the same category. If you are anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist, or even just mad at the No Child Left Behind policies, which he also attributes to a Jewish conspiracy, you might miss that the statement as a whole is highly problematic — yet, it got applause.

However, I’m not sure the applause was for the comments themselves. I observed what seemed like applause from people who revelled in someone else’s pain, even attempting to record it with their phone. In fact, some who applauded admit they did not really pay attention to what he was saying. Yet, they applauded. Why? Were they applauding because his verbal attacks elicited tears from someone with whom they disagree?

While public comment is valuable, what has been happening here is not helping us come together. Public comment is unidirectional, not dialogue. Each person gets up and shares ideas or throws darts and each “side” feels emboldened, but no mutual understanding is attempted or reached. In many cases it has been an exercise in confirmation bias. All communities need space for sharing perspectives, talking through ideas, and learning about one another. This work can start in the classroom but needs to extend through the lifespan. As I prepare to take my seat on the CBSD school board, my hope is to contribute to the healing in our community.


Thank you!

Thank you to all of my supporters. While more votes need to be counted, it looks good for me in Region 8. That said, we still have work to do. For those who did not vote for me, please know that I am truly dedicated to all children. Teachers love children and love learning and I am a teacher.

As we have been saying, School Boards should be non-partisan. Unfortunately, the votes throughout CBSD suggest otherwise. We have work to do to build trust so that we can work collaboratively toward a common goal in service of our students. Everyone who works in the district wants strength and stability. Parents who send their children to our schools want to know their children are being cared for - mind and body.

Our Neighbors United team worked very hard. Each of us hold CBSD very dear. No matter how the final counts shake out, I want to remind everyone of the tremendous assets that each of them bring to our community. Rob Dugger CBSD 7 -Warrington Voting Districts 2, 6, 7 & 8 is both smart and kind hearted. He understands group dynamics, how to build community, and is truly a generous listener. Diana Leygerman for Central Bucks School Board, Region 9 is a brilliant teacher and fierce advocate for all children. Dr. Mariam for Central Bucks School Board, Region 5 is thoughtful and approaches this world and her work with her whole heart. Jenine Zdanowicz for Central Bucks School Director - Region 4 is a powerhouse, she builds bridges and she knows this district inside and out.

Our team of volunteers is too long to mention them all here. But, they were behind the scenes knocking on doors, strategizing, and working like it was their actual job. We, quite literally, could not have done any of this without you.

As we move forward, my hope is that I can bring the best of everyone from our team to the work of the Board. Thank you again for all of your support, messages, donations, and warm wishes that sustained me through these months.

With love,

Tab


Press Coverage

I feel really lucky to have been highlighted in a few publications and podcasts. If you are interested, check them out here:

Meet a School Board Candidate Cyril Mychalejko

180 Days Podcast

The Con OH Show

Vote Local Series

Quoted in an article from Bucks County Courier Times


What is critical race theory, and could it be taught in PA schools_.pdf


Reimagining School Calendars

A few weeks ago a student shared a proposal to add Diwali to the school calendar. After her proposal Board members engaged in discussion about logistics, feasibility, and desirability of this proposal. I have been thinking about this meeting quite a bit and realize that holidays are just one piece of a bigger conversation about inclusion and cultural responsiveness in our community.

As a district we might want to ask ourselves which religious holidays are acknowledged? How are they acknowledged? Have we thought critically about these decisions or is it just based on the way it has always been?

Take the winter break as an example. Every year there will be holiday parties and events. Often there is some kind of holiday performance. The overwhelming iconography suggests Christmas -- Santa, gingerbread, candy canes, etc. As someone who was raised Catholic, that’s pretty cool. Everything I grew up valuing as important during that time is reflected in the spaces I navigate. However, let’s not be fooled that replacing “Christmas” with “Holiday” has made these celebrations inclusive. Hanukkah gets tossed in -- but there are more significant holidays in the Jewish calendar. Some schools might introduce Kwanzaa. But, Diwali and the Lunar New Year, which often get tossed into the “winter holidays” could be as early as November 4th and as late as mid February.

And, as someone pointed out at the aforementioned meeting, Good Friday is a religious holiday when we are always off. The fact that it is on the list of PA approved holidays is an example of how Christianity is baked into the school calendar in a way that gives privilege to one group over others.

With all of that in mind, I would like to propose that we reimagine the CBSD school calendar. It seems that we have been just putting band aids on it as we go rather than being thoughtful about what would be best for the children both in terms of instruction and personal well-being. For instance, when Spring Break moves every year to coincide with Good Friday/Easter, it may not fall at the best time of the marking period. So instead of deciding on when Spring Break should be based on a holiday that moves every year, why not choose a static Spring Break that is the same every year. This would allow teachers to plan instruction better and allow for children to have a break more in the middle of the semester to support a true chance to recharge.

It might be time to create a subcommittee made up of teachers, parents, students and other stakeholders who would be willing to look at the academic calendar through fresh eyes. I am including a limited list of questions below. I think it is important to note that I do not necessarily have the answers to these questions. They are just some things that the committee might consider as they approach this work.

Some ideas might be:

  • Which religious and/or national holidays merit a school closing? Why? How do we make those decisions?

  • Which holidays, celebrations and other times are important to our families - including our staff and school community?

  • How do we balance honoring and celebrating students/families/teachers and their cultural and religious values with a commitment to inclusion for all and not preferencing one culture over another?

  • How are teachers incorporating holidays into classes? Are teachers incorporating this in an educational and culturally responsive way, or do they perpetuate a preference for the dominant culture’s holidays?

  • Is our school participating in tokenism and/or perpetuating surface-level or incorrect understanding of holidays?

    • Example: if our school acknowledges Hanukkah but not Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur, we likely do not have a good understanding of the significance or meaning of different Jewish holy days.

    • Example: are we asking students from non-dominant cultures to take on the responsibility of educating their classmates, while assuming that students from dominant cultures don’t need to educate or explain things to others? Why?

    • Also consider whether holidays themselves promote damaging narratives, such as Columbus Day.

  • How often are we disrupting our school’s routine in order to celebrate or acknowledge holidays? Why? Is the disruption in routine worth the benefit? Is there a benefit?

    • Example: do we have holiday parties, assemblies, or special schedules? Are classes doing activities unconnected to their learning goals around holidays?

  • Do we acknowledge the increased mental health and wellness challenges that occur around Christmas/winter holiday time? What are we doing to support students, families, teachers and community members who may experience increased challenges during the winter?

  • Have we examined seemingly non-religious holidays such as Halloween and Valentine’s Day from different lenses? Have we examined whether those days actually do carry religious and cultural meaning? Have we questioned whether there is value in acknowledging/celebrating them, or do acknowledge/celebrate them unquestioningly?

  • Do we have our own rituals, routines and celebrations as a school? How do we support students to build community with one another in ways that are not connected to religious or national routines, rituals and celebrations?


NOTE: Many of the questions above were taken from this source.


Big Fun at Evolution Candy today!

Many thanks to the folks at Evolution Candy for hosting a little get to know the candidates on the sidewalk today. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting and talking to people today. I can't wait to serve our community on the school board.

Officially endorsed!

I am proud to say that I am the officially endorsed candidate of the Doylestown Democrats. Learn more about them or come to one of the meetings!

Vote Local

I was part of a panel along with three current school board directors. We talked about what School Directors do, COVID response, taxes, equity and more.

Reflections on the Vigil for Survivors of Sexual Violence

This weekend, several youth from our community (Grace Crescitelli, Liz Carroll, and Emma Sexauer) organized and lead an event to honor and support victims and survivors of sexual violence. They also opened up the space to support members of the AAPI community. This effort was supported by several adult community leaders including Marlene Prey and Larissa Hopwood.

I walked up through the courthouse lawn. I was a few minutes early. There were displays set up around the lawn to bring awareness to this issue from multiple perspectives. As someone who is generally awkward around actual people, I appreciated this opportunity to quietly interact with these messages and information.

Eventually, I made my way up to the courthouse steps. I got to say "hello" and chat with a few people I have not seen in quite a while - pandemic and all. I observed while volunteers tried to peacefully clear the area of a truck full of young people wielding a giant Trump flag. What was the point of that anyway? I mean, I have never been a Trump supporter, but I have to imagine that he would not encourage his supporters to protest an event meant to support victims of sexual violence. In any event, the organizers were smart to have volunteers who were ready and able to deal with situations like these.

I listened and watched. I saw teenagers leaning on one another and supporting one another. This support came both in the form of words and in the physical act of being close to one another and literally shouldering the weight of their friends. This gave me so much hope for our future.

I was sexually assaulted in high school. I did not feel I could tell anyone. Sometime afterward a teacher joked that "what [he] read on the bathroom walls about me must be true". In retrospect, I can imagine that he thought he was being funny and had no idea that I had been assaulted. But, at the time, that solidified my belief that I was the problem.

Later in life I volunteered at a rape care center. During my training the counselor in charge mentioned that some people come to this work as a "back door way to get counseling for their own trauma". I did not realize that is what I was doing -- but it was. My time as a volunteer, then writing curriculum for schools, then as a counselor, was transformative.

I think it is important to share that even after my own assault, I did not have a healthy or supportive outlook toward victim survivors. I remember thinking and saying things that put the blame on victim survivors. I believed I was the problem -- that we were the problem.

My view of this trauma, of my own positionality, of the impact more broadly -- all of it has evolved. It is still evolving. And seeing the community together this weekend is -- I barely have words for it. I remember when I was their age - I never thought I would see this. My love and gratitude for this group of teenagers is immense.

Thank you!



Statement on the Mass Shooting of March 16th

I have hesitated to put out a statement about the horrible incident of violence against Asian Americans that happened this past week. To be honest, the proliferation of statements after events like these can feel empty and performative. On the other hand, I did not want to create a misperception that this was not a situation worthy of comment. However, we must do more than issue statements. These statements, while well intentioned, are not transformative.


As the mom of an Asian child, this act of hatred against the Asian community is terrifying. I see this situation as the unfortunate extension of some of the most pressing issues in our country. Asians have long been seen as perpetual foreigners in our country. Even 3rd, 4th, 5th generation Asians are frequent targets of microaggressions. These may come in the form of surprise that they “speak so well” or questioning where they are from. Asian Americans have long been misunderstood. Their individual identities often erased because many non-Asians can not or do not bother to even try to acknowledge the diversity within the Asian community (i.e. Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Thai, etc.).


As far back as 2001 it was reported that 25% of Americans hold “strong negative attitudes” toward Chinese-Americans. And, 28% of those surveyed reported that they believed that the growth of the Asian American population is “bad for America”. (Lee, 2009 reporting data from a study conducted by the non-partisan Committee of 100). Today, we are still suffering the consequences of anti-Chinese rhetoric promoted by the 45th presidential administration. The derogatory and problematic ways in which Asians were scapegoated as being responsible for COVID-19 stoked the latent contempt that already exists for Asian Americans.


Stop AAPI Hate received 3,795 reports of racist incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders from March 19, 2020, to February 28, 2021. The Stop AAPI Hate study says, “The number of hate incidents reported to our center represent only a fraction of the number of hate incidents that actually occur, but it does show how vulnerable Asian Americans are to discrimination, and the types of discrimination they face.” Those include multiple forms of harassment (e.g. verbal, physical assault, and on-line). The mass shooting on March 16th in Atlanta represents a horrid culmination of this history.


I commend CBSD’s recent efforts in training teachers and staff about implicit bias and racism. Bucks County is also lucky to have the Bucks County Anti-Racism Coalition and several grassroots groups run by community members who have a demonstrated commitment to transforming our community, and by extension our schools, into places where everyone knows that they are welcome, and safe, and sincerely valued members of our community.



Ballot position lottery and cross filing.

Today, March 17th, was the day that the Board of Elections chose ballot positions. They literally put tokens in a container and shook them up and pulled numbers. It's not surprising, as an Italian-American, that I did not have the "luck o'the Irish". But, this is super important! Because of the magic of cross listing + the lottery - I am going to be listed #1 on the Republican ballot and #3 on the Democratic Ballot.

What the heck is cross listing? - Well, school board directors and magisterial judge candidates can cross file. That means they will appear on BOTH the Democratic and Republican ballots.

Why does this matter? In the primaries, you can only vote for candidates for whom you share your party affiliation (Dems can only vote for Dems; Reps can only vote for Reps). Cross listing allows folks from different parties to still cast their vote for whoever they want, despite party affiliation.

That's good right? Yes, it is mostly good because it signals that a position like school director shouldn't be partisan.

What does this mean for voters?

  1. Be sure you are registered as either a Democrat or Republican so that you can vote in the primary on May 18th.

  2. Vote in the primary!!! This determines who will be on the ballot in November.

  3. Be sure you know who you want to vote for based on how their beliefs align with yours. Don't just choose based on party affiliation -- cross filing makes that confusing and you could mistakenly choose someone you think is aligned with your beliefs but who actually is not.

~~ NOTE: I am listed #1 on the Republican ballot but I am more aligned with Democratic values. The person listed #1 on the Democratic ballot is more aligned with Republican values. Vote for the person NOT the party!

Collecting signatures. The day before it was in the 60s, on this day it was flurrying! You know what they say about the weather around here, "Enjoying the weather? Wait a minute."


Just starting out

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind. Here are a few things I have learned over the past few weeks;

  • The people who work at the Board of Elections are some of the nicest people on the planet. As someone who has never run for office, I had a lot of questions. Sometimes I would ask my questions, leave, and then half way down the hallway realize I had more questions. No matter how many times I showed up at the window, they were kind and helpful.

  • BoE means Board of Elections to some people and Board of Education to others. As a lifelong educator, this was confusing. I absolutely showed up at the Board of Education with paperwork that was meant for the Board of Elections -- once (cue Johnny Dangerously reference here). In any event, the folks over at the Board of Education are also super lovely people.

  • The people in our community are so nice! Of course I knew that already. But, having to knock on doors in the midst of a pandemic to get signatures so that I could be on the ballot solidified this knowledge. I met amazing people -- Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. You know what we all have in common? We all want schools to be great and we all love our children and other people's children.

  • People want to help! I have gotten Facebook messages and texts from so many people who want to help. It is not easy for me to ask for or even accept help. But, this is big and I can't do it alone. So, thank you!