Move to remove WCASD board members is an attack on democracy

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times @mikemcgannpa

Court of Common Pleas Judge William P. Mahon vacated his order Friday removing five members of the West Chester Area School District Board of Education — but the case and the possibility that duly-elected public officials could be removed from office remains a possibility.

So for now, Sue Tiernan, Joyce Chester, Kate Shaw, Karen Herrmann and Daryl Durnel are back on the board after an effort to remove them for voting to keep masking rules in the district as long as the Centers for Disease Control recommended them. As the case numbers dropped, per CDC guidelines, the mask rules have since been dropped.

Let’s be clear on this: it stinks to high heaven that it ever got this far.

Aside from various legal and procedural issues with this, it’s just wrong from a big picture standpoint.

In a democracy, if you dislike what an elected official does, you vote them out of office. In the case of WCASD’s board, a minority of people screamed bloody murder over masking throughout most of 2021. As there was an election in November, 2021, the voters got to pass their judgment.

Guess what? Pro masking candidates mostly won. In a democracy, majority rules.

Most people knew it was important to take a pandemic seriously — it has killed more than one million Americans — both to ensure the safety of students and staff, but also to avoid crippling litigation should a student or staff member die from COVID when a district doesn’t follow CDC guidelines. Insurers made it clear they would not cover such suits — so the potential for multiple multi-million dollar suits was a very real threat. 

If lost, such suits would increase taxes to the Act 1 limit, and see cuts in services, extra curricular activities and boost class sizes. Additionally, a weakened local district means your home value could drop. 

So, the WCASD board (and pretty much every other school board in the county) moved to protect students, staff and the wider community, despite literally insane claims that masks trapped CO and impaired breathing. There was no perfect solution — masks make it harder for kids to interact and read emotion, but actually being in school as opposed to virtual class was seen as the least bad solution.

Before you run off and scream: “But it was unconstitutional!” No, actually, it wasn’t. While Gov. Tom Wolf’s statewide mask mandate was ruled by a 4-3 margin to be in violation of the state constitution, school boards have latitude to make rules on the basis of health issues — temporary measures have been taken in local school districts during outbreaks of hoof and mouth disease and mumps in recent years.

So WCASD’s board made the best choice they could, balancing various needs — and the voters of the district ratified that decision with the November, 2021 elections, with three of four seats being won by Democrats who supported the masking policy. That should have settled the issue.

But not with today’s Republican Party. In their minds, the only legitimate election is one where the GOP wins — Democratic candidates cannot be allowed to win, ever.

Hence, this pathetic attempt to remove school board members from various school boards around the county, all of whom are Democrats. In short, this is a coup and an open attack on democracy.

People like Beth Ann Rosica and the political action committee that backs her — Back to School, funded by Bucks County venture capitalist Paul Martino – don’t believe in democracy or majority rule. They are seeking to destroy our public school system to enable for-profit schools. 

In the end, it is never about some “freedom” or “parental rights” effort – it is about putting more money in the pockets of fat cats at the expense of the rest of us. It is about naked greed.

But Judge Mahon also deserves heavy criticism for his handling of this case.

He clearly misinterpreted the rules on this filing, both in terms of timing and substance. And as someone who often refused to wear a mask in his courtroom when it was required under county rules, one has to wonder exactly how impartial Mahon is in this case.

I also question why this case wasn’t rejected out of hand. 

Roscia’s 10-person petition is fatally flawed. WCASD has three election districts — removing five members with just one petition signed by 10 voters seems illegal. At minimum, there should have been three petitions, one from each election district. How can voters not eligible to vote for a candidate in the first place sign a petition of removal? If this is legal, why can’t I, as a resident of the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District, sign and circulate a petition to remove members of the Oxford Area School District School Board? Obviously, I never would – but you get the point.

So the whole thing should be have been tossed from the get go.

In terms of the law, Act 14 of 1949, it’s never been used to remove a school board member. Elsewhere in state law, the bar is very much higher to remove an elected official — law that likely supersedes Act 14.

Bottom line: even if Mahon rules against the school board members, it is highly likely that the Commonwealth Court would immediately issue a stay and reverse the decision – both because of law and common sense.

If this is sustained, Republican members of school boards will be subject to the same treatment – wasting public funds and time — and creating chaos.

If a handful of people — 10 petition signers and a judge — can overturn thousands of votes, not because of misconduct, but because of policy disagreement, we no longer have a representative democracy.

We have mob rule.

This must not stand.

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One Comment

  1. Dopo Keane says:

    First off, I am in support of the school board, not only as a student of the WCASD school district, but because I legitametly think most of them (coughs in Whomsley) are really great people, and while they do fuck up from time to time, they put the community first and their personal agendas second.

    That being said, you actually got a couple of thins wrong in this article. Firstly, saying that the entire republican party hates democracy isnt true (This is coming from a leftist, btw). Theres a lot of good republicans out there, and the only reason why the party as a whole seems so extreme as of late is because of Trump-ism, and the fact that a lot of the louder voices in the republican party are Trump-ists. Also, Im 95% sure one of the 5 candidates to be removed was republican. Was the attempted removal bullshit? Hell yeah. Was it politically biased? Hell yeah. Was it an attack on democracy? Hell yeah. Did they only attack democrats? Yes, but they did take out republican by proxy.

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