Faced with accusations of creating a “hostile environment” for LGBTQ students and the scrutiny of the US Department of Education, the Central Bucks school board has hired a legal team led by former federal prosecutor Bill McSwain to conduct an internal investigation.
In a 6-3 vote Tuesday night, the board opted to go ahead with the Philadelphia-based Duane Morris group, led by McSwain and former federal prosecutor Michael Rinaldi, to conduct an internal review of district policies and charges levied in a 72-page complaint filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.
Lawyers for the ACLU have said they found a “pervasive and often severe pattern of bullying and harassment of LGBTQ students” at many of the district’s schools and have asked that the district be ordered to follow federal recommendations for providing an inclusive environment for LGBTQ youth. The Department of Education last month said it had opened an investigation into the complaint.
Central Bucks has not made available details of the contract with Duane Morris, including how much it will pay the company.
But the choice of McSwain, whose since-deleted Facebook comments call an invitation to join a West Chester School Gender-Sexuality Alliance club “leftist political indoctrination” sparked backlash during his run for governor this year, worrying some parents and board members.
Tabitha Dell’Angelo, who voted against the measure, said she supported hiring lawyers and commissioning an internal investigation, but could not bear to be represented by “someone who is unapologetic about their bias and has been vocal in their support.” . for the very kinds of policies that we are supposed to be reflecting on to make sure we get it right.”
“I’m afraid it seems like … we’re less interested in getting it right and more interested in being right,” Dell’Angelo said. “I can’t justify spending tax dollars, maybe lots of tax dollars, for someone to tell us what we want to hear.”
Along with Dell’Angelo, Democrats Karen Smith and Mariam Mahmud also voted against the hire. The three are often at odds with junta republican majority.
Smith added that the board had received repeated warnings and formal letters from legal groups that “our actions on certain policies and procedures violated the rights of students and likely resulted in legal action.”
In addition to comments about the middle school club, some community speakers Tuesday also raised concerns about McSwain’s stance on LGBTQ issues, noting that he also represented the Boy Scouts in 2008 when the city of Philadelphia tried to evict the group from its headquarters for excluding homosexuals. members
A spokesman for Duane Morris declined to comment.
During Tuesday’s meeting, a handful of parents and community members expressed their support for the board and its actions.
McSwain was appointed United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania by former President Donald Trump in 2017, and later reprimanded by Trump during his bid for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. Rinaldi also worked at the US Attorney’s Office, serving as deputy chief of the economic crimes unit.
In an electronic newsletter on Monday to parentsBoard President Dana Hunter wrote that the two “have decades of investigative experience and are well-prepared to serve and advise the Board as it works to ensure a safe learning environment for all children in the district.”
As part of their investigation, the attorneys will review the district’s policies, Hunter wrote. Policy discussion, including Contentious Proposed Advocacy Guidelines that many on the board say it will instill “neutrality” in the classroom, but that the ACLU and opponents have said it is aimed at removing rainbow Pride flags from classrooms, was stopped at the November meeting, awaiting the hiring of the law firm.
Hunter and other board members have repeatedly called for the release of the redacted names of seven LGBTQ students who the ACLU complaint says were intimidated to address the allegations, while ACLU attorneys have said they will not publicly release the information to protect your clientele.
“We are looking forward to the findings of the Duane Morris investigation to address what has otherwise been, for nearly a month, hidden information,” Hunter wrote.
His email called the ACLU complaint “a partisan political tool,” adding that “the Board will not be distracted by the ACLU’s tactics.”
In a statement, Witold Walczak, legal director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, responded: “The only thing that should distract the CB school board is figuring out how they fix the toxic environment they have created for LGBTQ students.”
The next board meeting is scheduled for December 5.