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It’s Friday, April 8. West Chester Area School Board members are back at the job, but for how long? A look at the case against masking that could upend the district. Plus, the property affectionately known as “Rancid Cheese Diaper Swamp” by neighbors may finally be sold, West Chester shows domination on the ice, and your favorite fundraising events are returning this spring. A bubble walk, anyone? Who’s ready? Let’s catch up.
“I understand the gravity of the situation.”Judge William P. Mahon
The Case Against Masking
In case you missed it, the seemingly far-reaching petition filed by West Chester-resident and former mayoral candidate Beth Ann Rosica (and signed by nine additional residents) that called for the removal of five West Chester Area School Board members over their support of a health and safety plan that included a mask mandate, came to fruition last week after the board members failed to meet a filing deadline. The Judge, the honorable William P. Mahon, seemingly irked that members failed to follow legal procedures, granted the petition and removed the members from their positions. Of course that was last week, since then the district responded with a frantic plea, a hearing was called, the judge heard out the district lawyers, and reinstated the members until the merits of the case can be reviewed.
Wednesday, March 30: Judge Mahon orders the removal of five members of the West Chester Area School Board.
Friday, April 1: District solicitors appeal the Judge’s decision stating they believed they had more time to respond. The judge agrees to reinstate members while the case plays out. “I understand the gravity of the situation,” Mahon is quoted as saying.
Monday, April 4: District solicitors file a motion to dismiss the case on lack of merit.
Next steps: Each side now needs to complete depositions and file for a hearing before the judge. They each have 45 days to do this. (Someone put that on the district calendar.)
I saw the headlines but what exactly is going on? Essentially this is a case over whether or not the school district had the authority to require students to wear masks while COVID case loads were high. Opponents of masking are angry their requests to remove masks were not responded to sooner by the district. The district, for its part, maintains it was listening to the concerns of all parents, teachers and staff during an unprecedented time.
What the plaintiffs argue:
- Mask mandates harmed children in the district and the school board violated state law by imposing these mandates on healthy students.
- The petition alleges the board essentially subjected the students to forced participation in medical device experimentation. (Point #28 of the petition.)
- In addition the suit accuses the board of: child abuse, medical battery, suffocation, and serious mental injury.
- The petition also accuses the board of not adhering to “PA Public School Code of 1949” which includes a list of ailments that warrant exclusion of children from school. The list they argue does not include coronaviruses. It does, however, include measles, rubella, mumps, diphtheria and scarlet fever.
- Finally they contend state law allows for the removal of school board members if 10 residents of the district petition the court to do so. (The judge apparently agreed with this condition.)
What the District (lawyers) say:
- Just because you don’t like a decision doesn’t make it illegal.
- The health and safety plan and the subsequent mask mandate were in keeping with guidance from local, state and national health agencies.
- The mandates were enforced with valid reason – COVID-19 has killed almost 1 million Americans and affected millions of children.
- The charges have no merit and the statues cited in the petition do not cover public school law in the state.
“While certain members of the public may disagree with the board’s decision to follow federal, state and local public health guidance calling for the wearing of face coverings inside the school district’s building, such disagreement cannot serve as the basis for this court to remove any members of the board,” the motion reads.
What the judge said: “The costs of these proceedings are imposed equally on the West Chester Area School District and the Board Members.”
This is not the last we will hear of this issue. Both parties will be back in front of Judge Mahon in little over a month and what was widely suspected a long shot petition has gained visibility due to a timing error by the district. Regardless of the outcome, the costs of the decision will directly impact students, parents, educators and the community at large.
“Rancid Cheese Diaper Swamp”
Last week after years on the market and a continuous fall into disrepair, the Daily Local reported there may finally be a buyer for the former home of Davis Oil on 614 E. Barnard Street. The 1.3 acre property, once a distribution center for the West Chester-based oil delivery company, is technically a 3-parcel plot that has been owned by the Davis Estate since 1987. The estate was headed by Boyd Davis Jr., son of Davis Heating Oil founder and longtime company chairman, until his death earlier this year.
- According to Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection 19 tanks containing a variety of gas, kerosene, diesel, and heating oil were located on the property over a 50 year period beginning in 1950. All but one have been removed.
- Estate representative Mr. Boyd, a former Borough Council member, was convicted of stealing more than $500,000 from his elderly parents in 2012.
In addition to being a contaminated brown site (the new owners will need to follow a remediation plan approved by the DEP), there are also $12,000 in unpaid fines against the property owed to the Borough. Unfortunately in what appears to be another example of a corporate shell game unavailable to the rest of us, the Borough is considering waiving the fines to facilitate the sale as the estate reportedly has no funds. Right.
Despite all that, residents in the area are very excited a sale is near. This description was shared recently on Nextdoor:
“If you’ve followed this saga at all, you have seen me post videos and pictures of the absolute blight this building is to our neighborhood and town. I was all set to come here this morning to let you all now that a pair of buzzards have moved in as well, landing on the roof and hopping down one of the collapsed beams to help themselves to the ever-increasingly-fragrant buffet within… I’m begging you all, believers and non-believers alike, pray that this sale goes through. I don’t think anyone in our neighborhood minds what goes in next, as long as it is a functioning piece of property that doesn’t smell like rancid cheese diaper swamp.”
Back on the shelf
Even before Judge Mahon agreed to unseat five members of the West Chester Area School Board, there was a(nother) passionate discussion underway. This time over the memior “Gender Queer” and “Escaping a Sinking Ship” stories of daring escapes from sinking ships that includes the description of one German boy’s escape from a ship during WWII. The point of debate? Whether or not these books should be removed from school libraries. Following a series of speeches from parents and students, recommendations from the book review committees* (both who recommended to keep), and the personal thoughts of the board members themselves. The school board voted 8 to 1 to keep the books on the shelves. The only decent was member Stacey Whomsley, who reportedly argued the review hadn’t followed proper procedure and should have gone to the Education Committee first.
With students lobbying for more trust to guide their own lives and parents and grandparents worrying they are not mature enough, the meeting reminded me of another school board meeting from my youth – although this time with arguably more on the line.
Wesley Hiester, a female to male transgender Freshman at East, spoke near the beginning of the meeting in favor of keeping “Gender Queer” on the shelves. He shared with Board Members a chilling fact. “According to the Trevor Project one LGBQ teen attempts suicide every 45 seconds in the U.S. Let the fact that you want to ban a book that could save those lives sink in,” he said. And later he continued, “I am proof this book already saved one life. If that is not enough, I don’t know what is.”
*Book review committees are made up of at least one parent or guardian, community member, student, principal, supervisor, teacher, librarian and member of the school board
Isn’t cleanliness next to Godliness? This week I took a peak at the Chester County Health Inspector Reports for March and I am happy to report there is very little to report. Well, with two exceptions.
One is at the H&L Grill at the Westtown Amish Market, 1165 Wilmington Pike, which was out-of-compliance with 13 violations including employees not washing their hands between glove changes, an open can of potatoes stored on a soiled drainboard, raw chicken stored above ready-to-eat foods and several areas in need of a good scrubbing.
Also out-of-compliance, and perhaps not surprisingly, the Chester County Prison on Wawaset Road. While the prison did chalk up a lot of violations, 15 to be exact, they were not the fodder of movies. A lot of the violations have to do with things not functioning properly: ice-makers not making ice, sinks that don’t get hot enough, sanitation-mixes that aren’t strong enough and ready-to-eat foods that were not kept cold enough.
Everyone should get a second chance. I am also happy to report several of the establishments out-of-compliance last month including, Greystone Oyster Bar, West Chester Pizza Cafe and West Chester Diner are all back in. Even the Bagel Bistro on Route 3 which spent more than four months without addressing their cleanliness issues finally got to work. They left last month’s follow-up inspection without a single violation!
Let go of the Legos. West Chester police are looking for help identifying a man wanted for the theft of $600 worth booze and Legos. The gentleman, described as a 40-year old, white male of medium build, is wanted for thefts that took place on March 26 at Monkey Fish Toys and the Wine and Spirits store in Bradford Plaza. If these images jog any memories, give WCPD a call at 610-696-2700.
Keep your hands to yourself. What a weird trend to be experiencing but last month Andie Jimenez was arrested for strangling someone during an incident that took place at the Market Street Flat apartments. Then less than a week later and a few blocks away, John Ray was also arrested for strangulation. This time after assaulting a woman on the 100 block of E. Miner Street.
And if the idea of hunting down individuals that would steal from toy stores or strangle their girlfriends sounds rewarding to you, West Chester Police are looking to add to their ranks. Registration is open until May 6. Applicant tests will be held on May 21. If you are interested but need more information, a Q&A session is planned for this Saturday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.
While we are now solidly into April and I am sooo ready to put the ice behind us, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out a couple of major hockey victories that took place since I last posted. First a round of applause to West Chester East’s boys hockey team, who took the Flyers Cup then came back on that Saturday to win it all. This marks their second PA Cup Class A State Championship in a row. A dominating (10-0) performance that had prompted PrepLive reporter Bryan Davis to ask, “Dynasty?”
Also lacing up to victory, the Henderson girls ice hockey team. The night before the boys would bring back their trophy to the south end of town, the lady Warriors brought home their own Flyers Cup championship trophy to Montgomery Drive. High fives all around.
Just warming up – a couple of spring teams and individuals to keep an eye on:
- Let’s start with Marek Seaman, Rustin Lacrosse’s midfielder. Marek, a junior, passed the 100+ career point mark this week after helping the Vikings secure a 14-3 victory (ouch) over crosstown vival Henderson.
- Rustin’s girls softball team is also off to a strong 6-0 start including a victory last week over East.
- In a similar sport with similar teams, a different outcome. This time it was baseball and East getting the better of Rustin. Only to find Henderson, topping East days later. Henderson makes it through the week 5-0 on a couple of strong individual performances like a perfect game from pitcher Eddie Smink. Looks like it’s going to be another exciting season in West Chester.
This week also congratulations to West Chester University which continues to deliver in terms of college rankings. The Golden Rams had six graduate programs appear on US News’ best of lists. Although this may be one of those stories best ended at the headline – of the ranking programs, Social Work was highest placing in a 21-school tie for 94th. See the full list of ranked programs here.
And finally high fives to Exton Elementary school which celebrated 80 years last week. This makes Exton the oldest continuously operating building within the West Chester Area School District. Way to keep on, keeping on.
Say hi to the West Chester Senior Center which officially reopened its doors this week after a near two-year closure. “SOOOO many smiling faces came through our doors yesterday – it was wonderful to see!” shared WCSC Executive Director Kathy Sullivan in an email. “They’re just so happy to be back in what many call ‘their favorite place!’”
Back-to-normal operations are expected to gradually ramp up over the next couple weeks starting with the return of lunch and exercise classes. At the same time the senior center will be working to transition its pandemic side-hustle, a drive-through food distribution service that provided more than 250,000 meals to West Chester seniors over the last two years, to a more permanent grocery store-style set up. The new “store” will give seniors the independence to shop the shelves based on individual needs and preferences. Food will remain free to those that need it.
Learn more about the Senior Center’s grand reopening here.
Also mark your calendars for the return of your favorite fundraising events. After two years of virtual runs and zoomed speeches, the nonprofit world is ready to return. Last month we shared the return of the Sweet Charity dessert competition in support of Chester County Community Fund and here are several more you’ll want to save the date for.
Spring fundraisers return
- Uptown’s Light Up the Night Gala, originally scheduled for January, is ready to happen for real this time. The in-person event starts with cocktails and hor’s d’oeuvres at the Chester County History Center and then moves across the street to Uptown for more cocktails and live entertainment by the Broadway Boys. The event is April 16 and tickets are still available.
- ACT in Faith’s Chef’s Best is also back but with a twist. What was a one-night, in-person event has morphed into a six-week restaurant tour. Purchase your “pass” for $50 and get vouchers to try each of the four competing appetizers at your leisure. The competition opens April 11 and runs through May 26. In what is truly a West Chester affair, Ram’s Head, Opa Taverna, Split Rail and Slow Hand will be battling it out for hometown glory. Get your tickets here.
- The Bubble Walk in support of the Arc of Chester County is also returning this year. On May 15, head to 900 Lawrence Drive for food, dancing and a chance to walk through a blanket of bubbles. This family friendly event is open to all. Register here.
- Bloom fashion show and brunch, the signature spring fundraiser for West Chester-based Unite for HER, is back live on-stage this year. The event will take place May 1 at Drexelbrook Event Center, in Drexel, PA.
And just to make sure we all make it to these wonderful events, the Chester County Health Department announced last week that second booster doses of the COVID-19 vaccine would be available for qualifying individuals (50+ or immunocompromised with the last dose more than four months ago.)
A West Chester University organization representing faculty members announced formally it would like the US to say goodbye to student debt. The West Chester University chapter of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and Universities Faculties (APSCUF) joined a growing list of organizations asking President Biden to permanently cancel all federally held student debt. In a statement released by their executive committee they called the situation “a crisis” and one that has a disproportionate effect on educators. According to a study shared by the group, 1 and 7 educators with advanced degrees, such as the university faculty members, carry more than $105,000 in student loan debt.
“In Pennsylvania, and here at West Chester University, canceling student loan debt would provide a huge benefit to the many WCU Alums with student debt, as a full 75% of 2020 WCU Graduates left with an average debt of $37,100.
Also this week, we can (hopefully, maybe, finally, officially) say goodbye to efforts to develop Crebilly Farms off West Street Road. According to a press release put out by Natural Lands the owners of Crebilly Farm have signed an agreement of sale that opens a path for the permanent protection of the property. Under the proposal, 208-acres of the 312-acre property would be purchased by Westtown Township and converted into a massive (for comparison sakes West Goshen Park is 55 acres), passive-use park. The remaining 104 acres would be purchased by Natural Lands then resold to private buyers but under the condition the land is not be developed.
Next up: secure the $25.5 million in grant funding needed to make the above a reality.
Pay it forward.
Last weekend a group of Hillsdale parents, students and community members erected eight garden beds on the backside of the elementary school’s property. Once the build and mulching is complete, the beds will be filled with plants provided by the Chester County Food Bank. Students across all classrooms will take part in a school wide planting day on Earth Day, April 22. The gardens will be tended by Hillsdale families over the summer and students will then get a chance to help harvest the bounty when they return in the fall. The majority of which will be taken to the Chester County Food Bank for distribution into the community. The remainder will be used for teaching purposes (and probably some light snacking).
The mulching phase of the project is planned for Saturday. If you find yourself with some free time this weekend, volunteers are still needed. Sign up here.
Also, the Brandywine SPCA is completely out of towels and blankets and are looking for gently used ones to be dropped off at their 1212 Phoenixville Pike location.
Also, if you like your community support to come with no physical requirements. Rustin Junior Laine McGurk has been nominated as a Miss PA Basketball Tremendous Twenty-Five. Miss PA Basketball recognizes the best high school players in Pennsylvania as voted on by the fans, the media and the coaches – each representing a third of the vote. If you would like to help Laine get the recognition she deserves for an outstanding season, voting is now open. The Tremendous 25 finalists will be announced April 10 and will have a chance to compete for Terrific Ten and eventually Miss PA Basketball.
Laine is the only West Chester player – male or female – to be nominated this year. I know it is an honor just to be nominated, but let’s help her win!
The freakin’ weekend.
What are you up to this weekend? We will be heading across the street for the Borough Easter Egg hunt which returns for the first time since 2019. Also judging by my neighbors, it’s time to get mulching and on Sunday I am fully committed to finally trying these cinnamon rolls.
If you are around, West Chester University Opera is staging a production of Strauss’s Die Fledermaus, the comic story of revenge, mistaken identity and too much champagne at a masked ball, the Easter Bunny Express is back at the West Chester Railroad and Thursday was National Beer Day and I am see no reason why celebrations can’t extend into the weekend. Enjoy!
Mark your calendars:
- April 8 -9 – Die Fledermaus, Emillie K. Asplundh Concert Hall, 7:30 p.m., Tickets are $12 adult/$7 students. The comic story of revenge, mistaken identity and too much champagne at a masked ball.
- April 9 – West Chester Park & Rec Easter Egg Hunt, Everhart Park, 10 a.m. sharp. Event is free and open to kids 12 and under. Just don’t be late.
- April 9 – Egg Hunt, Boot Road Park, 10 a.m. Open to kids 10 and under. Bring your own basket and be on time. Event starts promptly at 10 am and is expected to last about 15 minutes.
- April 9 – Easter Bunny Express, West Chester Railroad, 12 -1:30 pm. The Easter Bunny will be on board and handing out treats to riders. Tickets: $27, adults; $20, kids 2-12; $8, 9 mo – 2 years, if this date/time don’t work for you, there are seven others to choose from.
- April 9 – “West Chester Vices” Murder Mystery Scavenger Hunt, 12 p.m. downtown West Chester, Sleuthound.com; tickets $15.
- April 9 – Cars & Coffee at County Corvette, 9 to 11 a.m. at 325 Westtown Rd. Event is free and coffee provided.
- April 9 – 2022 Hazardous Waste Event, Technical College High School – Pickering Campus in Phoenixville. Note: you must pre-register for this event. This is open to all Chester County residents or if you can wait, there is a similar waste event planned for West Chester, Oct 8.
- April 9 – The Ultimate Johnny Cash Tribute, Uptown Theater, 8 p.m. Tickets $25 advance, $30 at the door.
- April 10 – Helicopters and the Bunny, American Helicopter Museum, 1 – 3 p.m.
- April 10 – 23 Annual Cat Angel Benefit Concert, Madeleine Wing Adler Theatre, 3-4:30 p.mThis event has cats (on video) interacting with musicians. Event is free and promises to leave you with a warm fuzzy feeling.
- April 13 – A Virtual Walking Tour of the University’s Sculpture Collection, 6:30- April 19 – Creating an Environmentally, Economically, and Socially Sustainable WCU, 7- 8 p.m. This is a free virtual presentation. Registration is required.
- April 16 – Full Moon Hike, Stroud Preserve, 7 p.m. Registration required – hike costs $5 members; $10 non-members
- April 16 – Light Up the Night: Uptown! Fundraiser, Uptown! Theater, 6-10 p.m. Tickets $125
- This is a free virtual presentation. Registration is required.
- April 22 -24 – Alumni weekend at West Chester University, prepare for a traffic surge especially around campus and downtown.
- April 22 – Carolyn Comitta’s Blood Drive, Oscar Lasko YMCA, 8 a.m. – 1 p.m. Appointments are encouraged. To schedule your appointment go to redcrossblood.org and enter sponsor code “Senator Comitta”. April 23 – West Chester University’s Sesquicentennial “Wrap Party”, all day, all campus, tour WCU buildings and museums, see a performance of Into the Woods, check out 3D modeling in action at the GIS lab, hear about research being conducted by university professors and students, taste instant ice cream from the chemistry department and much more. All events are free and open to the public.
That’s it. Stay safe, stay healthy and I’ll see you next week.
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