UPDATE: Upper Perkiomen School Board member Raeann Hofkin was censured by her fellow board members at their meeting Thursday. To read more about it, click here.
The president of a school board in upper Montgomery County is under attack for what a former student in the district is calling “transphobic” comments about Pennsylvania health secretary Dr. Rachel Levine she appears to have posted on Facebook.
Levine, who has helped lead the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, is a transgender woman and the first transgender person appointed to a state cabinet post.
Raeann Hofkin is the current president of the nine-member Upper Perkiomen School Board, which serves students in East Greenville, Pennsburg, Green Lane, Red Hill, Upper Hanover Township, Marlborough Township and Hereford Township (Berks County).
In separate posts made under her name–screenshots of which appear below–Hofkin apparently made a derogatory reference to Levine’s transgender status by calling her to a “dicktator” and commented “love this” on a derogatory post about Levine in the Facebook group “REAL Residents of Upper Perk.”
The comments were denounced by former student Jay Kressly Elias in a letter to the Upper Perkiomen School Board that was shared on the Upper Perk Residents Facebook page Wednesday; a post that has since gone viral.
A transgender man, Elias said he was fortunate to grow up in a small town among people who accepted him for who he is.
“I’ve gotten my fair share of ridicule, my fair share of hate,” he said. “But it was never from the people who knew me. I count myself incredibly lucky in that regard.”
He drew a distinction between those experiences and the views he said Hofkin has shared.
“Raeann Hofkin clearly does not understand what this community is made of,” Elias wrote. “Her transphobic comments aren’t isolated incidents. She has consistently expressed her disdain for love, unity, peace and respect on multiple public platforms by now.”
“Having her hold a position as high and powerful as Upper Perkiomen School District President is–and I am not exaggerating here in the slightest–an atrocity,” he said. “How disgraceful that we should let someone so ignorant, so dismissive of MY humanity and the humanity of others like me be in a position to make decisions about how our schools should function. I’m sick over it.”
Elias concludes the letter by calling for Hofkin’s immediate resignation.
“I want all kids–trans, cis-gendered, gay, bi, Black, white, Hispanic, Asian, fat, skinny, differently abled, etc.–to have the experience that I had growing up,” he said. “No, actually, I want it to be even better for them. I want them to know that we have truly made progress in the Upper Perkiomen community. And as decision makers in the district, it is YOUR responsibility to ensure that happens. Please, do your jobs.”
According to the school board’s Ethics Policy, board members agree to “work with our fellow constituents in a spirit of harmony and cooperation in spite of differences of opinion that arise during vigorous debate of points at issue” and also to “base our personal decision upon all available facts in each situation; to vote our honest conviction in every case, un-swayed by partisan bias of any kind.”
A number of public posts on Hofkin’s personal Facebook page reveal what appears to be partisan bias.
In one post she shared May 19, she equated the coronavirus–which has killed over 100,000 Americans–to the Common Core state educational standards.
In 2015, near the end of her first term on the school board, Hofkin told a local newspaper that she felt her job was often a thankless one, but that she was “learning the art of compromise and how to facilitate discussions among those with strong opinions and philosophies.”
According to the school district website, Hofkin’s current term is due to expire in 2023.
The Upper Perkiomen School Board will hold a virtual meeting online this evening, June 11, at 7 p.m. The link to view the meeting as well as a form to submit public comment and questions may be found on the district website, however comments and questions must be submitted at least two hours before the start of the meeting.
Hofkin’s condemnation comes as other school board members in Pennsylvania are facing criticism for posts they have made regarding protests inspired by George Floyd’s death.
In Berks County, a petition demanding the resignation of Conrad Weiser school board member William Carl has received media attention and nearly 3,000 signatures, as of late Wednesday afternoon.
Carl is under fire for allegedly making racially insensitive comments, including “urban scum are getting wet” and that “if it came down to it I’d shoot a white looter as quick as I would shoot a black one, and I don’t miss, black lives don’t matter to other blacks…just sayin.”
Meanwhile in Chester County, school board member Karel Minor resigned after a Facebook comment he made referencing the manner in which Floyd died–with a knee on his neck–sparked anger, according to an NBC10 news story.
And in the Southern Lehigh School District, two former students have created a Change.org petition demanding that anti-racist policies and curriculum be introduced.
Against the backdrop of what are often heated politicized battles between individuals or groups on Facebook and elsewhere online, real-life protests are being held to commemorate Floyd’s death and to help ensure that it doesn’t ever happen again.
The Town and County newspaper reported Wednesday that as many as 600 people lined the streets of Pennsburg–which is part of the Upper Perkiomen School District–for a peaceful protest against racism June 4.
A similar but smaller protest was held in Riegelsville Monday, and another is planned for Hellertown this Saturday.
Saucon Source has reached out to Hofkin to request comment, and will update this story with any remarks she submits or makes at the school board meeting Thursday.