Emails obtained by Pennsbury residents show Dr. Cherrissa Gibson, the district’s Director of Equity, Diversity, and Education, calling on the school board to edit out comments made by a parent who spoke against their “antiracist” agenda. The March email in question shows Gibson taking issue with comments made by Lower Makefield Township resident Doug Marshall. Marshall criticized the district’s “diversity and equity” initiatives during the comment section of a March board meeting.
“As a Black member of the Pennsbury community, and also as an educator charged with securing an inclusive educational environment for every learner in our system, I found Mr. Marshall’s comments offensive and abusive,” wrote Gibson.
“The Board’s response to the offensive comments made clear the importance of anti-racism education, and having the knowledge and skills to recognize and respond to implicit or explicit racist behaviors,” she continued.
Gibson then called upon the board to remove Marshall’s comments, saying that he was speaking in, “coded, racist terms.”
“Mr. Marshall’s comments focus specifically on black people and are filled with microaggressions as well as explicit racist ideas. His comments connect the Black community to several commonly-held, stereotypical beliefs that are harmful,” she said before explicitly calling for the comments to be removed. She also called for an “in the moment process/procedure for determining what/when comments should be considered abusive, irrelevant or otherwise in conflict with the District’s policy on Public Participation at Board Meetings.”
A reply email from School Board President Christine Toy-Dragoni shows her bending over backwards to meet Gibson’s demands. “I have been upset since the public comment and felt so caught off guard. As you know i have taken significant scrutiny lately over my rejection of and limited inclusion of public comment. I say this not as an excuse for not stopping Mr. Marshall and his abusive comments; but as a recognition of my failure,” wrote the board president.
Comments critical of the district’s initiatives were later edited out from their YouTube channel for both the May and March board meetings. Toy-Dragoni then sent a letter to the community in which she apologized for Marshall’s comments.
“Recent comments made by a community member at the March 18, 2021 School Board
meeting during public comment were abusive and irrelevant to the work taking place in
the Pennsbury School District. The comments should have been stopped abruptly by
the Board President as the language became both abusive to Black students and
community members, as well as irrelevant to any District business,” the letter said.
In a viral video, former Pennsbury School Board member and current Lower Makefield resident Simon Campbell went off on the board and called for Gibson’s resignation. “My right to critique your fascism, which is what this is, is constitutionally protected,” said Campbell.
“I’m quoting you from the U.S. Supreme Court. The judges wrote: ‘This nation is founded on the profound national commitment to the principle that debate of public issues shall be uninhibited, robust, and wide open. And that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.’ That’s constitutional case law in this nation. I don’t have to be nice to you. Nobody behind me has to be nice to you,” he continued.
According to Tom Sofield of LevittownNow, the practice of editing out comments made by community members is partically unheard of in Pennsylvania. “LevittownNow.com was unable to pull any examples of the practice being used among the Bristol Borough, Bristol Township, and Neshaminy school boards since it began publication in March 2013,” Sofield said in his piece on the topic.