Samuel (Sandy) Rhodes closed the East Penn School Board meeting last week with the following remarks. It was his final meeting as a board member after serving our community for twelve years. His perspective is important enough that I wanted to share it beyond the handful of people who were at the meeting:
"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist." -President Eisenhower
Some related comments of my own that may be of interest:
Lower Macungie Middle School held a beautiful and moving Veteran’s Day program this morning. With the entire school assembled alongside dozens of veterans, the program included tributes to all veterans and their families by the school band, choir, individual students, and individual veterans.
Sitting in the audience, the program was a poignant reminder of the sacrifices so many have made in our armed forces. But it also reminded me of the important role the public schools play as central pillars of our whole community. Beyond just educating kids, schools are places where an 11-year-old middle school flute player and a 72-year-old combat veteran can-- and do-- come together to share experiences and affirm common values. The result is a community in which all of our lives are enriched.
The East Penn School District has held this program every year for almost a half century now. Thanks to all the students, staff, parents and veterans who made continuing this community tradition possible. Happy Veteran’s Day.
Classes resume Monday morning at Emmaus High School, after security concerns led to a lockdown and early dismissal on Thursday and cancelling of classes Friday.
As our kids try to return to their normal routines, I urge all parents, students and staff to consider how much damage spreading unsubstantiated rumors about the incident last week can do:
As the unsubstantiated rumors of gangs and guns and knives and threats spread late last week, East Penn student Caleb Burkhardt posted his reaction to the issue that was more thoughtful and sensitive than anything I read by any adult:
Today at Emmaus High School, there was a lockdown initiated at 8 AM due to a contraband search after a student dropped a box of bullets nearby/in one of the cafeterias. Now if you know me well, you'll know I despise being in the dark; but the proper response to being in the dark is not creating and or spreading rumors. It's human nature to panic, human nature to believe the first thing you hear. But just because it's the first thing you heard doesn't make it true. All that it has succeeded in doing is creating an unnecessary atmosphere of panic and fear. According to the district attorney, all that was found was the box of 50 .22 caliber bullets. That's it. I understand that many people do not trust law enforcement and the like, but when it comes to the safety of students and a town where the worst law enforcement has done is enforce 2 hour parking in the triangle, I'd trust what they say over the hearsay being spread by other students. Just because a majority claims it is true does not make it so. Now lets address some of the rumors. No guns were found, no one was arrested, there is no confirmed "gang." There were no knives or drugs found. The DA stated that the only thing found were the bullets. While there may be a gang or may have been/be a plan to shoot up the school, it remains unconfirmed and at this point is - as far as I am concerned - hearsay. That isn't to say that being worried and panicking was an incorrect response, by all means it was perfectly reasonable. But what was not reasonable was spreading unconfirmed statements that do nothing but further the chaos. I understand many of you do not want to go to school tomorrow, and understandably so. However if it is because you feel "unsafe," the school will have Emmaus Borough Police on campus, certainly able to stop any shooter. I've seen people say that yes it is true that there is going to be an attempt at a shooting tomorrow. Not to offend or call out these people, but unless your source is the person intending on shooting other people (in which case why haven't you reported it?) I am inclined to believe otherwise. There is a limit to better safe than sorry, and here we see it. Stop furthering the fear and chaos. Think before you post.
The lockdown on Thursday was not a signal for us to panic about the safety of our high school. It was a signal that we have well-trained and prepared administrators doing their jobs.
I don't know more than any other parent what our law enforcement professionals will ultimately learn about this incident; whether it was an accident, a hoax, or a real threat. But no matter where the truth ultimately lies, unsubstantiated rumors and panic WILL do harm and will NOT make our kids safer.
I write this not only as a member of the school board, but also as a father whose daughter was in the high school Thursday morning. So I have a very personal understanding of the anxiety that this kind of incident can produce. I call on everyone in the community to resist letting this anxiety morph into rumor-filled hysteria.
And in the spirit of lightening our collective anxiety, I end with Monty Python's classic take on a moral panic and the logic of the rumor mill in a much different time:
I will be voting for Ken Bacher, Chuck Ballard, Paul Champagne, Rich Mathesz, and Wally Vinovskis in our local East Penn School Board elections on Tuesday. Here is how these pro-education candidates explain their approach to school board service:
Dr. Ken Bacher is currently Vice-President of the school board and is running for his second term. He is an incredibly smart guy with a deep understanding of the complicated financial issues the board must regularly address. Mr. Chuck Ballard has served on the board longer than any of the district’s current students have been alive! He is a vocal champion for strong public schools and regularly provides valuable institutional knowledge and insight at board meetings. Reverend Wally Vinovskis was appointed to the board just two years ago and has been a reasoned voice for balance and consensus since that time.
This is the first time Mr. Paul Champagne has sought a position on the school board. I first met Paul at the League of Women Voters Candidates Night last May, where he showed an impressive command of the issues facing our community. Since then, I have found Paul to be a clear thinker and direct communicator who would be a great addition to the board. Mr. Rich Mathesz is also running in his first school board election. He has proven himself to be focused on educational, rather than political, issues over the course of his campaign. He is also a longtime security specialist, with skills and experience that might prove particularly valuable in light of the lockdown and cancelled school at Emmaus High School last week.
These five candidates are very different people who bring different experience and expertise to the board. I won’t agree with any of them on every issue facing our schools. But I know that all five are pro-education members of the community who I can trust to make independent decisions based on facts and the good of our public education system, rather than partisan political commitments.
Local elections often have the greatest and most immediate impact on our lives, so please take the time to vote on Tuesday. Good schools really do matter!
Here are some additional materials that may help you in research the candidates:
3 Reasons to Vote for Wally Vinovskis. My more detailed explanation for why I support Reverend Wally Vinovskis for school board.
Outside Money Means Less Local Control. A discussion of how outside money from partisan sources in this election could impact the local control of our schools.
3 Myths about Common Core. Every current school board candidate is a skeptic of Common Core (now known here as PA Core Standards). But not everyone is telling the truth about it.
Voter Guide from the Lehigh Valley League of Women Voters. The guide provides basic information (e.g. education, qualifications, etc.) for each candidate.