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Solehi SD Roiled by DEI, Former Supt.’s Possible ‘Improper Quid Pro Quo’

Eddinger Southern Lehigh School District

Incorporating diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training within the realm of public education has become a significant topic of conversation in school districts around the country over the past year, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. Controversy over DEI landed at the feet of the Southern Lehigh School Board Monday, with a serious twist.

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Eddinger Southern Lehigh School District

Former school board member Michael Eddinger addresses the Southern Lehigh School Board Monday. Eddinger denounced and called for some of its members to resign over what he said was a dereliction of their duty to oversee the work of former superintendent Kathleen Evison, who resigned in the spring and left the district to return to England last month.

Incorporating diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training within the realm of public education has become a significant topic of conversation in school districts around the country over the past year, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. Controversy over DEI landed at the feet of the Southern Lehigh School Board Monday, with a serious twist.

At issue beyond an ongoing debate over whether such training is necessary, is work performed by the district’s former superintendent, Kathleen Evison, to secure an independent contract with a North Carolina educator, Dr. Joseph Allen, to to provide diversity, inclusion and equity needs assessment, action planning and professional development to the district.

Evison was the superintendent of Southern Lehigh schools for nearly five years, until she resigned in the spring, when she said she would be returning to her native England.

Less than a year into a five-year contract at the time, Evison submitted her resignation in April. It took effect July 2, which according to a resolution the school board approved Monday night was just 12 days before the state’s Office of Open Records (OOR) determined that the district had erred in denying a resident’s request to receive copies of communication Evison had had with Allen.

The OOR found that “the school district’s handling of a public records request was not in accordance with law,” the resolution said, and that it could be subject to a civil penalty as a result. Beyond that Evison may have violated district policy and procedures, it also said.

The resolution directly quoted the OOR’s decision, which states that, “the District has failed to perform its statutory duties under the RTKL (Right to Know Law). The District did not rely upon a reasonable interpretation of law, failed to address a portion of the Request, and willingly chose not to participate on appeal to remedy those deficiencies. The OOR notes that a court may impose civil penalties for such conduct.”

That failure, while serious, is only one of the issues the board will now address with help from legal counsel it agreed to hire to perform an investigation, not only into the alleged Right to Know Law violation, but also into actions by Evison it believes demand scrutiny.

According to the resolution, when the board followed Evison’s recommendation and agreed to award a $10,000 contract to Allen for DEI assessment and related work in June 2020, Evison had not disclosed to board members that she may have had a relationship with Allen beyond what would have been required by the negotiations to hire him, as well as a possible motive to steer the board toward approving a contract with him.

Both of those things–part of a so-called “outside connection” the resolution said the two may have had–were found in the emails the resident spent nearly a year trying to obtain.

“A review of emails on the School District’s network and other documents reviewed suggest that there was an outside connection between Allen and Evison, the precise nature and starting date of which is unknown,” the resolution said.

Quotes from email exchanges the two had were included in the resolution, where they serve to indicate the possibility of “an improper quid-pro-quo,” it noted.

Evison was enrolled in a graduate program at Vanderbilt University in 2020, and she communicated with Allen about possible assistance with a school project, it said.

On Aug. 6, 2020, the resolution documented that Allen provided Evison with a letter, “to acknowledge that Vanderbilt student Kathleen T. Everson (sic) is working in collaboration with Mooresville Graded School District in Mooresville, NC regarding her final capstone project. We have authorized her use of de-identified district data related to her project. We look forward to working with Kathleen, and are committed to assisting her in the completion of her capstone in any way we can.”

“On the surface of this material alone, one could question whether an improper quid pro-quo existed between Allen and Evison whereby, for example, in exchange for Evison
recommending a contract be awarded by the School District to Allen, Allen agreed to assist Evison with her graduate work at Vanderbilt,” the approved resolution stated.

Residents who spoke at the meeting voiced their frustration not only over how the agreement with Allen was reached, but also about the concept of DEI itself.

A woman who self-identified as having requested copies of the communication between Evison and Allen said they contain “evidence that a false narrative drove the…program,” and told the board “this program never should have been approved and never should be.”

“The board should commit to transparency,” another resident said. “Ms. Evison had an agenda.”

He claimed the agenda was to train district staff in DEI initiatives based on critical race theory (CRT), a school of academic thought regarding the history of racism in the United States which has become highly politicized and is now polarizing many school districts.

“This was a corrupt process from the beginning, and the outcome was predetermined because of Dr. Evison’s own bias,” the resident told the board.

“Nobody paid attention, just like some of you aren’t paying attention now,” a female resident yelled at the board. “You had the audacity with your pompous, elitist attitude…to criticize us and tell us we didn’t know what we were talking about, when for all intents and purposes, we knew more than you, which is unacceptable.”

School board member Jeffrey Dimmig, who was the only board member to vote against the June 2020 agreement with Allen, said the emails confirmed that “it was worse than I thought.”

“I certainly support ending–or not going forward–with a next step with Dr. Allen,” Dimmig said. “I don’t know why we ever had to go to North Carolina or to Texas or whatever.”

He said whatever training the district utilizes should “reflect the values of Southern Lehigh,” and that he believes the issue of examining equity “is dividing this community.”

“I prefer to talk about making sure that people are proud of our community,” Dimmig said. “I’m 100 percent for that.”

“I am very thankful to see this particular chapter of it come to an end,” he concluded; a statement that was met with thunderous applause from a sometimes raucous audience.

When another board member said that just because the district was ending its agreement Allen it didn’t mean that DEI would not be pursued as a training module at Southern Lehigh, the audience’s reaction was mixed.

“(DEI) does not mean critical race theory,” the school board member said. “It’s something that is used in offices nationwide.”

In response to her statement, one audience member shouted, “FASCISM!”

“I think that is clear based on what we’re hearing now, that we need something,” the board member then said.

She added that others in the community support her views, but claimed many are too afraid to share them publicly at a meeting.

Due to how the meeting was held online, via a livestream on YouTube, it was not possible to determine which board members were speaking at times. Many of the community members who addressed the board did not identify themselves by name at the podium.

The district did not upload a recording of the lengthy meeting, which was also punctuated at times by parents decrying a possible mask mandate in schools or on buses due to rising COVID case numbers and the lack of a vaccine for children under 12.

The next Southern Lehigh School Board meeting will be held Monday, Aug. 23 at 7 p.m.


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About the author

Josh Popichak

Josh Popichak is the owner, publisher and editor of Saucon Source. A Lehigh Valley native, he's covered local news since 2005 and previously worked for Berks-Mont News and AOL/Patch. Contact him at

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