West Chester Weekly News Roundup: July 9, 2021

Post 4th mood around town.

With so much going on around town, catch up on what you may have missed.  

It’s Friday, July 9. Why is it that the School District, more than any other local institution, brings the national debates to our doorstep? This week I break down the latest controversy. Plus, one of West Chester’s more neglected neighborhoods is being marketed as a high-end development opportunity. Its loss could further strain affordable housing in the Borough. Plus, the events are back! Check out the many ways you can lose yourself this weekend.  

“Whether we call it equity or something else, some people in the district will feel we are moving too slowly, others too quickly but in my mind at the heart of what the district is trying to do is recognize the value of each person and their heritage.”

Dr. John Woodcock, Pastor, Church of the Loving Shepard

Critical Cut

West Chester courthouse as depicted by a local artist on a Gay Street barrier. (At least that’s what I think it is.)

For some reason lately the West Chester Area School District and its subsequent Facebook outlets, more than any other local institution, has served to bring national debates to our doorsteps or more accurately, our newsfeeds. These forums have spurned discussions on transgender athletes in women’s sports, whether QAnon beliefs are infiltrating local politics and now whether or not Critical Race Theory is and should be taught in the West Chester schools. This latest debate reared up at the June school board meeting where several representatives from both sides stepped forward to voice their positions.

I sense there is more, but before we get started, how are we defining Critical Race Theory?

Good question. To level set, this is how Education Week, a publication covering K-12 education, defines CRT “The core idea is that race is a social construct, and that racism is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies.” Also know, despite all the attention lately, CRT is not a new concept. It has been around since the 1970s.

Ok, so what are the concerns? 

The concerns seemed to center specifically around the curriculum the West Chester Area School District is teaching. Several parents spoke up against the district’s “Equity” coursework suggesting it placed some races (cough) white students (cough) in a negative light and this could leave these students feeling ashamed of themselves. 

Both School Board candidates Ada Nestor and Stacy Whomsely spoke at the meeting and each called separate parts of the K-12 coursework into question. Ms. Whomsely took issue with a Social Justice course she registered her third grader for while, Ms. Nestor cited examples from the Pacific Education Group coursework. who the District partnered with 12-years ago to enhance its policy and practices around racial equity.

She quoted from PEG’s Beyond Diversity curriculum which reportedly asks, “What does it mean to be white? What is whiteness? What are the privileges of whiteness?” She then questioned the school board, “How is it right to teach kids they are either oppressed or oppressors not based on their behavior but based on the color of their skin?”

While, PEG’s Courageous Conversations provides the basis for a lot of the districts equity background, according to Superintendent Dr. James Scanlon, the district has not done a professional training with PEG in ten years. There was no mention of “Beyond Diversity” or whether it specifically is being used by the District.

Those supportive of the school’s teaching choices around equity were well-represented as well with speakers standing up from local churches, synagogues and the NAACP.

“We believe it is important that all of our students black, brown, and white, receive culturally appropriate and academically rigorous instruction. Instruction that includes history reflective of the experience of all Americans particularly areas of history that have been traditionally neglected such black history,” Sandra Shall, Chair of the Chester County NAACP Education Committee, said as she complimented the board on their efforts toward equity.  

Ok, wait, so is CRT actually being taught in West Chester schools?  

No, Critical Race Theory, as described above, is not a curriculum. It is a way of thinking about race and racism and its implementations throughout society. The WCASD teaches instead what it calls, “equity.” During the Board meeting, Dr. James Scanlon, WCASD Superintendent, addressed the question directly: “We don’t have a class on CRT. We don’t have a course to teach CRT to our staff but the concept of understanding different races and different cultures and the impact that that has, we do teach that to our staff.” 

Remind me, why are we discussing this now? 

This is not entirely clear, but it has been coming up a lot nationally and the PA State House recently introduced a PA House Bill 1532 which according to its title “Provides for restrictions on racist and sexist concepts.” The “racist and sexist concepts” however, are quite broadly defined. For example, “an individual should not receive favorable treatment due to the individual’s race or sex.” While that sounds logical, would this limit a civics class from having a discussion about reparations? Or “An individual, by virtue of race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously” – seems to be a direct challenge to unconscious bias training. 

And the thing is, getting it wrong could be a big problem. As written violators, including a single staff member, could cost the district its state funding for the remainder of the year the violation occurred and the following.

Note this bill is not limited to school districts but also applies to county and municipal agencies. 

However, this law is just making its way to the state’s education committee so it could be a while before it hits the state house floor and larger debate. 

Ok, so what’s next?

I’m not sure. While any changes at the state level are likely still a ways out, waves are being made. There are a couple of candidates for school board who are clearly challenging the status quo when it comes to teaching equity in the district. On the other hand, there the district has a new Director of Equity and Assessment and there are many who remain supportive of the District’s  actions so far and, of course, those who feel they haven’t gone far enough. 

Catch up

325-337 W. Chestnut Street

Local townhome block poised for high end shake up. An apt portrait of the West Chester real estate market and the ever shrinking stable of affordable houses, one of the borough’s more low rent complexes is being marketed by high-end real estate purveyors KellerWilliams Black Label. The brown, nondescript 16-unit rental complex starting at 325 W. Chestnut Street has seven – 1-bedroom units, and nine – 2-bedroom units, all currently rented or otherwise unavailable. The listed amenities for renters include “ceiling fans” and “carpet.” 

However the future of W. Chestnut hints at a very different story. Listed as a group for $2.6 million the property is being touted for its proximity to downtown, plenty of unseen parking – who knew the units each have an attached parking garage? – and the promise of “tear down.” It seems Black Label agents are hoping investors see promise in West Chester’s rising rents.

West Chester plastic ban to go into effect “as soon as permissible.” Almost exactly two years after its passing, after delays, workarounds and a pandemic that made plastic use in vogue again, it looks like West Chester will finally get its bags. The state moratorium on plastic bans has ended and so the 2019 West Chester ordinance that prohibits the distribution of single-use plastic bags and straws by downtown businesses is now in effect. 

The Police Department finds some minority candidates. As early as this month West Chester Mayor Jordan Norley could present two candidates to borough council to fill two still vacant positions on the West Chester police force and for the first time in a while there is a very good chance that at least one of those candidates will be a minority.

Last month the Daily Local reported that the department had seven candidates certified by the Civil Service Commission for consideration – of those, three were women, one a African-American woman. While interviews still need to be conducted, diversity has been a clear goal of the WCPD for a while now and this appears to be a step in the right direction.

Melton Housing project on time, if not budget. The Daily Local is reporting pandemic related material cost increases have upped the cost of the 41-apartment, 10 townhome development, but the cost increases will not impact rents or completion. Pinckney Hill Commons, as it will be known, is set to be completed early next year. 

The warnings. 

Pretty lines down freshly paved S. Wayne Street.

Take the long way around. It’s the height of summer and that means, road repair. If you thought I was going to say something fun, like ice cream or swimming holes, sorry about that. If you would like to see a complete list of all the paving projects planned for this year, here you are.  

Slow down, leave a gap and use those turn signals. There’s your warning. The Pennsylvania State police along with municipal departments across Chester, Bucks, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties are conducting their annual ode to aggressive driving. So keep it clean through August 22 or risk the ticket. 

Watch where you are going. There’s a home there. Early Tuesday morning West Chester Police officers were called to investigate an accident at the intersection of E. Marshall and N. Matlack Streets. When they arrived they found the totaled car of 28-year-old West Chester resident Daniel Daley. It was determined Mr. Daley, who was under the influence of alcohol, drove his car through the stop sign and into a nearby home, causing minor damage. Mr. Daley was subsequently taken into police custody and charged with DUI.

West Chester has seen a spike in DUIs as COVID restrictions have lifted over the spring. In May there were six reported DUIs according to the latest crime figures presented by the WCPD. This is nearly double what we would typically see and six times what was recorded this time last year when the lockdown is in place. 

While rideshare shortages could continue to be a problem through the end of the summer, there are always the classics DD, walking, or crashing at a friend’s.

It always feels like somebody’s watching me. Put this in the pro column for the West Chester Police Departments Civilian Camera Program. 

“It’s been the craziest first year of opening a restaurant but this makes it worth every second.”

Mae’s via Facebook

Accolades.

Congratulations to Mae’s which was recognized in MainLine Today’s “Best of the Mainline” issue as the Reader’s Choice for Best Bistro. Mae’s opened their doors just weeks into the pandemic. Mae’s was joined by more than 40 other West Chester institutions on this year’s list. You can find all the winners in their current issue.

Also, a hearty handshake to West Chester Views which celebrates four years of gracing us with gorgeous pictures of West Chester. Every time I think there cannot be one more way to make this town look picturesque, he posts another photo.  

Finally, high-fives to West Chester kids. Last week Superintendent James Scanlon reported more than 2000 students are participating in the district’s summer programs from tutoring to book club to full enrichment courses.  

Hello. 

Welcome to Tsaocca West Chester. A bubble tea shop that specializes in fresh, made-to-order tea drinks. Each signature bubble tea is made with real organic milk, almond milk, soy milk or coconut water – no powder stuff here. “I wanted it to be a healthier, more real take on a dessert drink,” TSAō·CHA founder is quoted as saying. Taste the difference for yourself at 18 N. High Street

Say hello to a new classroom, or six, at Westtown-Thornbury Elementary. This month the West Chester Area School Board approved building contracts for 2.8 million to construct the six-classroom addition. The elementary expansion comes on the heels of the completion of Greystone Elementary, the district’s first new elementary in 30 years.

Also, get ready to welcome back the West Chester Halloween parade. After originally cancelling this year’s event due to COVID-19 concerns, the Borough has reversed course and it is back on. Parade will be held on October 27. If you would like to be in the parade, registration for a spot is now open

Keep those arms outstretched, because also returning this month, West Chester University’s live public concerts. Alumni of the Wells School of Music’s Criterion Jazz Ensemble will be back next week for their annual reunion concert and once again the performance will be live. 

“This year will be extra special because it will be the first time since March of 2020 that a lot of us are playing music with other people and for a live audience,” says Dave DiValentino, newly appointed director of the alumni ensemble.

As always, the concert is free to the public. Performance is Thursday, 7:30 p.m. at the Emilie K. Asplundh Concert Hall, if you’d like to attend.  

And finally, while we are welcoming things, say hello again to the Carousel Ballroom. After being closed for 15 months, they are officially dancing again!

Goodbye.

Say goodbye to the Dia Doce window. After of a year watching crowds wrap around the corner, counter service is back, can’t say I won’t miss it just a little.

To West Chester Area School District’s COVID-19 dashboard. As a sign of the times WCASD is saying goodbye to its COVID-19 tracking spreadsheet. As COVID numbers across the county have dropped (latest figures show positivity rates under 1 percent), Chester County Health Department and subsequently the West Chester Area School District have updated their guidance for the start of the 2021-2022 school year. This includes:

  • Masks will be optional for all staff and students both in and out of the building and on buses. However, assigned seating on buses will remain.
  • We can also say goodbye (yay) to hybrid learning, parents and students will need to be either all in or all cyber next year.  
  • Welcoming back parent volunteers.

Not yet changing back – water fountains will remain off but water filling stations will be available, current cleaning regimens will continue, as will planned breaks for handwashing and sanitizing. 

It has yet to be determined whether quarantine periods will continue for students that have tested positive or have been exposed to the virus. Contact tracing will continue through the summer and the district promises to notify the community when updated guidance becomes available. 

Pay it forward. 

Fundraising for play time.

This August West Chester Area School District will open its first elementary school in 30 years –and the newly formed Greystone PTO has been saddled with a Herculean task – fundraise the costs for a new school playground by the start of the school year.  

The story of how this came to be and how you can help make sure the students have a safe place to play here.  

Also, calling all bookworms (and masters of nonprofit or business administration): West Chester is looking to fill an open role on the West Chester Public Library Board of Trustees. Interviews will be conducted at the next Borough Council meeting (July 20, 7 p.m.). Additional information on the Library Board can be found here. If you are interested in interviewing for this vacancy, please send a letter of interest and resume to:  danad@west-chester.com no later than today (July 9). 

Finally, know a kid in need of a hot (or more likely, cold) lunch? West Chester Area School District’s free summer breakfast and lunch program continues. Distribution takes place every Wednesday until school resumes again. Pick up at the rear of Fugett Middle School from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Open to all WCASD residents under the age of 18. 

The freakin’ weekend. 

Why not a little live theater this weekend?

https://www.instagram.com/p/CRFG8r7jkZc/What are you up to this weekend? After a busy several weeks, we are settling into a weekend with nothing to do. Maybe we’ll hit the pool? Maybe we’ll hit the Grower’s Market? Maybe we’ll get some gelato? Definitely, we should get gelato.

If you are looking for something more structured, events are back, baby! Check out the ever growing list below.

Mark your calendars:

July 9 – WCStudio presents Freckleface Strawberry, the Musical, Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center, 10:30 a.m., 1 p.m. Family- friendly performance, Tickets $13 adults, $11 kids

July 9 – Better Than Bacon Improv Comedy, Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center, 7:30 p.m. Tickets $23 in advance; $28 at the door

July 15 – Book Discussion: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin, Chester County History Center or via Zoom, 10:30 a.m. Registration required. 

July 15 – Criterions Jazz Ensemble’s Alumni Concert, Emilie K. Asplundh Concert Hall, 7:30 p.m. This live concert is free to the public and also available via livestream

July 22: Back of the House and Beyond: the Millionaire Household, 1900-1942, 7:00 p.m. via Zoom. Registration required. Event is “pay as you wish.” 

July 22: Dueling Pianos, Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center, 7:30 p.m. Tickets $20 in advance; $23 at the door

July 22 – Music at Marshall Square Park, Marshall Square Park, 6:30 p.m. Free. Just bring a blanket. Food trucks provided (at a cost, of course). 

July 31 – Live at the Fillmore – Allman Brothers Tribute, Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center, 8:00 p.m. Tickets $43 (with service fee)

Stay safe. Stay healthy and I’ll see you next week. 

New to the blog? Follow along for the latest from West Chester.

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