Rock abruptly resigns from UCF board over bullying issue

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

Michael Rock offers his resignation from the Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board Monday night as left, Superintendent John Sanville and right Board Director Gregg Lindner look on.

EAST MARLBOROUGH — Unionville-Chadds Ford Board of Education Director Michael Rock decried what he termed as his colleagues’ failure to acknowledge concerns by minority parents about bullying in the schools and resigned from his position just minutes into Monday night’s work session.

“I remain stunned and dumbfounded by our continuing unwillingness to honor the heartfelt requests from several of our minority parents who asked us, following the election, to send a letter to everyone in our community condemning in no uncertain terms intimidation of our minority students and offering our strongest commitment to support diversity and tolerance at the UCFSD,” Rock read from a prepared statement.

Rock claimed that Superintendent of Schools Dr. John Sanville reportedly told a minority parent that “there is nothing the District can do to address their concerns in the absence of a specific and formal complaint that would be handled by our bullying policy.”

Related: Rock’s entire statement

Board president Victor Dupuis expressed disappointment in Rock’s actions and said Rock had a responsibility to report any such concern — and likely a legal duty to do so — as a school board director.

“I’m disappointed that he thinks he is above the law,” Dupuis said.

Dupuis also took issue with Rock’s basic premise, suggesting that the district has been clear in that it will not tolerate bullying or intimidation of students, staff or anyone and has gone great lengths to demonstrate that.

Still, the issue has been a long-simmering one, since the election of Donald Trump as president last November and a series of concerning incidents by alleged white nationalist groups and others targeting minorities, since the election. The issue has been a point of discussion in a number of Chester County school districts. Twice last year, parents of Asian-American students appeared before the UCF board asking for intervention with what they saw as concerning behavior.

Rock suggested that Unionville-Chadds Ford follow the lead of the Radnor Township School District — where current UCF Assistant to the Superintendent Ken Batchelor is set to become Superintendent next month — and issue a letter to the community at large and develop a diversity plan.

Rock said that he had hoped to remain on the board through the end of his term — his Region B  (Newlin, Pocopson and Birmingham) seat is up for election in 2017 and Rock was not expected to seek reelection — but that he saw his efforts as becoming futile without support from his colleagues on the board and administration.

“I cannot and will not serve on a Board that does not have the common decency to comfort our minority parents in these trying times especially since it is so easy and simple to do,” Rock said.There are times when it is important to stand up to racism and bigotry, even the quiet and unspoken kind that we are experiencing here, and say no. So I offer my resignation from the Board of the UCFSD effective at the end of my remarks.”

Rock’s seat will be filled by appointment of the board in the coming weeks. The district will announce the application process in the coming days — residents of Region B are eligible — and based on past process, the candidates will be interviewed by the board at an upcoming meeting, before the board votes for a replacement, who will serve through the final meeting of November, 2017.

Two seats from Region B — Rock’s and that of Director Steven Simonson — are up for election in 2017 for a term that would begin in December. Two Region A (East Marlborough and West Marlborough) seats — those of Jeff Hellrung and Elise Anderson — are also up for election. Both Hellrung and Anderson have announced their plans to run for their seats.

In other district news, the board gave OK to the proposed preliminary budget for the 2017-18 school year of $85,519,633. The initial budget proposal — basically a rough draft of the coming year’s budget calls for a 3.44% tax increase in Chester County and a 1.24% tax increase in Delaware County — the difference coming from the variation in property valuations between the two counties.

The rate has swung back and forth over the years — with one county’s rate being higher than the other at various times. The proposed preliminary budget calls for the use of $500,000 in exceptions under Act 1  — the state law limiting real estate tax increases, this year’s Act 1 increase limit is 2.5%. The district is eligible for roughly $890,000 in special education cost increases and just over $300,000 in pension increases.

The board approved the initial draft of the budget, but may relook at how much exceptions to seek in the version sent to the state next month. The district would not be able seek any exceptions not in the proposed preliminary budget submitted to the state.

One wrinkle that could change some of the numbers, Hellrung suggested eliminating student activity fees for sports and other activities in the high school and middle school, which accounts for about $110,000 in revenue for the district yearly. Hellrung argued for maintaining the parking fees at Unionville High School – at $200 a year the highest in the county — as he suggested that driving to school was a privilege and demand for the parking permits had typically outstripped supply.

Also, Dave Listman, the district’s Communications and Stakeholder Integration Director, gave a presentation on a potential upgrade of the district’s communication software. Listman detailed potential options to better integrate the Web, messaging and other digital communication portals for the district — with the goal of upgrading at no additional costs to the district. The project, he said, is likely to continue through 2017.

The board welcome exchange students to the high school from Costa Rica — and noted their harrowing trip north. The students flew through Fort Lauderdale and were at the airport during this week’s fatal shootings in the baggage area. Although none were thought to be in the immediate area or in any danger, the airport’s closure seriously impacted their travel, meaning they did not reach their host families until 4:30 a.m. Unionville students are expected to make their own trip to Costa Rica on an exchange trip this summer, formally up for approval at the board meeting on Jan. 23.

Finally, the board voted unanimously — 8-0 with Simonson absent — to expel three students. Although no details were discussed at the meeting — per state law — Sanville did issue a statement to the community at large offering details:

“In early December 2016 a knife was brought onto school property. After investigation by the UHS administration, it was determined that three students were involved in this incident,” Sanville wrote. “The investigation indicates that this knife was not intended for use in an act of mass violence –  but rather related to an interpersonal student matter. While no students were injured, and the incident was handled swiftly, professionally, and peacefully, it was a disturbing and unnerving experience.”

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