County judge removes 5 from WCASD board over masking policy

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times @mikemcgannpa

The original petition filed in the West Chester Area School District case.

A Chester County judge moved Tuesday to remove five members of the West Chester Area School District Board of Education on what he termed a procedural issue — saying that neither the school board members or school district responded in a timely manner to a petition seeking the removal.

Court of Common Pleas Judge William P Mahon ordered the removal of Sue Tiernan, Joyce Chester, Kate Shaw, Karen Herrmann and Daryl Durnell, based on a removal petition brought by Beth Ann Rosica in February over the district’s mask policy. 

All five are Democrats. Rosica, a Republican, lost a bid for mayor of West Chester last year. Similar petitions have been filed against other Chester County school districts, including Downingtown and Coatesville. Rosica is also the Executive Director of Back to School PA, a political action committee (PAC), funded by Bucks County venture capitalist Paul Martino. Back to School has been driving fights against school districts using the fictional issue of Critical Race Theory — a college graduate-level topic, related to structural ongoing racism, not taught in the county’s K-12 public schools and masking policies.

WCASD ended its mask mandate earlier this month — as did most schools in the region as COVID-19 case numbers dropped, seemingly making the primary issue driving the recall petition — signed by 10 residents of the district — a moot issue.

Mahon did not rule on the merits of the petition — based on a provision 1949’s Act 14, which provides four the removal of school board directors over a failure of duty — but said the district’s and board members’ lack of response forced his decision.

In a footnote to the ruling, Mahon cited “Despite the important issues raised in the Petition, Respondent failed to comply with the rules of Civil Procedure, 24 P.S. 3-281 and the Trial Court Order of March 15, 2022. Failure of Respondent to comply requires this procedural result.”

Mahon ordered both sides to come up with a list of five replacement members for the school board.

The decision is expected to be appealed today.

WCASD officials offered a comment to the general community, Tuesday. Superintendent Dr. Bob Sokolowski wrote:

“Special counsel to the district is in the process of preparing a substantive response on behalf of those school board members named in the petition. While we do not have all of the answers at this time, please be assured that the West Chester Area School District and I remain deeply committed to the mission of educating and inspiring the best in our students.”

He noted as it pertains to ongoing litigation, he can’t make further comment, but promised updates for the community as soon as possible.

The issue seems to be driven by December’s state Supreme Court decision ruling that the state Health Department’s school mask mandate was unconstitutional. Despite that ruling, most area school districts continued their masking rules — in line with recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) — until case numbers dropped in the county.

The petition is based on a little-know provision of Section 318 of Act 14 of 1949 — which appears never to have been successfully used to remove a school board member.

The 10 signers of the petition are:

Rosica, of West Chester, John Reilly of West Chester, Langley Barnes of West Goshen, Fred Burns of West Goshen, Matthew J. McKenzie of West Goshen, Ada M. Nestor of West Goshen, Suzanna Smith of West Chester, Donna Anderson of East Goshen and Daniel Wise of West Chester.

The text of Section 318 reads as follows:

“Removal for Failure to Organize or Neglect of Duty.–If the board of school directors in any district (1) fail to organize as hereafter provided, or (2) refuse or neglect to perform any duty imposed upon it by the provisions of this act relating to school districts or (3) being a party to a joint board agreement refuse or neglect to perform any duty imposed upon it by the provisions of this act relating to joint boards or by the joint board agreement, any ten resident taxpayers in the district or, in the case of a distressed school district as defined in this act, the special board of control provided for in section 692 of this act, may present their or its petition in writing, verified by the oath or affirmation of at least three such resident taxpayers or, in the case of a distressed school district, by the Superintendent of Public Instruction, to the court of common pleas of the county in which such district or the largest part in area is located, setting forth the facts of such refusal or neglect of duty on the part of such school directors. The court shall grant a rule upon the school directors, returnable in not less than ten or more than twenty days from the date of issue thereof, to show cause why they should not be removed from office. The school directors shall have at least five days’ notice of the granting of the rule. On or before the return day of the rule the school directors, individually or jointly, shall file in writing their answer or answers to the petition, under oath. If the facts set forth in the petition, or any material part thereof, is denied, the court shall hear the several parties on such matters as are contained in the petition. If on such hearing, or if when no answer is filed denying the facts set forth in the petition, the court shall be of the opinion that any duty imposed on the board of school directors, which is by the provisions of this act made mandatory upon them to perform, has not been done or has been neglected by them the court shall have power to remove the board, or such of its number as in its opinion is proper, and appoint for the unexpired terms other qualified persons in their stead, subject to the provisions of this act.”

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  1. Ken Rimple says:

    How sad and pathetic that Republicans resort to removing duly elected board members to score political points.The anti-masking herd will do anything to rub the noses of parents who care for their children in the muck.

    The lord has nothing to do with medical ignorance.

    Sadly, people in this state seem to cling to their feelings and ignore science regardless of whether it benefits them. Why get a degree and apply what you’ve learned? You can just lose an election, fire up a petition and throw a bunch of people out of office. Really great going, folks.

  2. Karen Muvalney says:

    Thank the Lord. NOW, Do Downingtown Area School District in Chester COunty, and Great Valley School District, also in Chester COunty.

    Funny how ALL these districts operate lock stock and barrel? Hmmmmm

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