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Helping SV Teachers, Expulsion Controversy, Honoring Winter Athletes: Op-Ed

Saucon Valley School Board member Bill Broun shares an update on the latest issues brought before the board.

Est. Read Time: 5 mins

Teachers and residents overflow the seating area during the March 12, 2024 Saucon Valley School Board meeting. The meeting in its entirety can be watched on YouTube. (Contributed photo)

Here’s this month’s dispatch to the Saucon Source. This time, I’m running down three of the latest “Big School Board” happenings from my limited perspective. And just to reiterate, as always: I’m writing as one of nine board members. My take in no way represents the position of the board or district.

Helping Teachers. I was encouraged to join with teachers, the administration, several other board members and citizens to discuss the topic of employee morale and high turnover at a special public meeting two weeks ago. As hard as some folks may try to deny it, this morale issue isn’t going away and it threatens Saucon’s scholastic success. The academic years 2021-22 and 2022-23 saw double the number of employee resignations (34 and 38, respectively) compared to the recent historic norm (typically, about 10 to 18 a year). This is according to a 10-year survey of school board minutes. The topic of flagging teacher morale is actually a national one, but there are localized particulars, too. The movement of teachers from building to building is a notable sore point, and it isn’t exactly new at Saucon.

Contributed graphic

Saucon Valley Education Association representatives were asked to participate in the discussion.

“We believe that the district is caught in a cycle of stakeholder distrust that is preventing us from attracting, developing and retaining effective teachers and administrators, which we believe is a severe detriment to our students and the larger educational community,” said SVEA President Lara McCarthy, reading from a prepared statement.

“Real change” could require an outside consultant “who helps us move through organizational change,” she added. “With this level of distrust, it may be hard to make change from within when feelings of being attacked are happening.”

“For many years,” McCarthy concluded, “we have asked [the administration and board] for meaningful communication with the teachers. This certainly did not start with [Superintendent Jaime] Vlasaty’s tenure but we hope she is willing to partner to have it end here as we need to work together to make constructive changes. This is the work that involves all stakeholders because it requires change within each group. With the shared objective of a commitment to improve the culture of distrust, we can increase teacher morale and effectiveness and increase student engagement.”

Expulsion Controversy. A crowd of more than a hundred citizens appeared at this week’s regular Saucon Valley School Board meeting on Tuesday, March 12, many there to show concern about recent student expulsions. The allegations leading to these expulsions have involved bladed objects being brought to schools. I have seen or heard no evidence that there has been any intent on anyone’s part to cause harm with these objects, but as the district’s solicitor reminded me, the state statute requiring one-year expulsions when weapons are brought on school property in Pennsylvania is a “strict liability” law. Intent doesn’t matter. Bring a weapon, and you’re expelled for one year.

The law does afford superintendents overarching power to sidestep the one-year provision on a case-by-case basis at their discretion—a crucial point.

In the most controversial Saucon case, a scary-looking object marketed and sold explicitly as a toy was brought to Saucon Valley Elementary by a second-grader. Two images sent to me by a concerned citizen seem to show an exact copy of the object in question, I am told, and it does seem to match up with the object shown to us on the board. Is it a weapon? A toy? A replica? To me, it was a potentially dangerous toy that had no business in a school, but it wasn’t a weapon either, and it was easy to imagine how a young child might bring such an object to school, not understanding it could cause enormous distress. It is a heavy zinc alloy mini-sword with a conventionally-sized keychain attached. The “blade” is dull and decoratively anodized, and the marketing on the package presents generic fantasy-game imagery similar to Legends of Zelda or World of Warcraft. These are sold on Ebay as collectible anime-related merchandise. They inhabit a kind of toy gray area. There is no question that this thing could injure or even kill someone—but so can a sharpened pencil.

Many citizens in the crowd were upset at the prospect of such a young child being expelled under the totality of circumstances. I shared those feelings. (In fairness, a significant subgroup was also at this meeting for completely unrelated reasons–to recognize Saucon Valley athletic achievements–see below.) The school board ultimately voted to accept an agreement between the district and the parents of the student. I myself was the sole “no” vote, it turned out. The agreement waives the parents’ rights to a district expulsion hearing (which can itself be a costly and painful experience for everyone involved) in exchange, in this case, for a reduced punishment for the child (expulsion until the end of this school year only versus at least a year).

I won’t try to speak to my fellow board members’ motivations precisely, but I think they ranged from truly wanting to respect an emphatic agreement lawfully signed by the parents for the hearing waiver to a sincere desire to protect other students and staff from a perceived threat. There was also a sense that there must be punishment, I suspect. Still, I felt the family had already been punished enough, and there was also persuasive evidence that at least one of the parents signed the agreement for fear of the risk of losing in a hearing and having her child expelled for a year. Many board members appeared to be saddened by the whole situation, it’s safe to say, but the loved ones and friends of students affected by this seemed crushed. It was heartbreaking.

Winter Athletic Wonders. On a lighter note, a number of Saucon athletes were recognized at the last board meeting for their winter accomplishments. Given the heaviness of so many other topics on the agenda, there seemed a palpable sense of shared, simple joy (even relief) in getting to clap for all these smiling, fresh-faced young people. It was a reminder that our children need us as a community, in hard times and in their achievements. In wrestling, plaudits went up for Carter Chunko (district champion), Aiden Grogg (district champion), Jackson Albert (district champion and state qualifier) and Cole Hubert (district champion and state qualifier). In swimming, Julia Cort was celebrated as district champion and state qualifier, with Katryna Price, Angelina Dechert, Clair Smith and Cort as 400-meter relay district champions and state qualifiers. The 200-meter relay team (Price, Dechert, Amanda Dettmar and Cort) received kudos as state qualifiers, too. Finally, the boys basketball team was applauded along with the new competitive spirit team (aka, competitive cheerleading) as state qualifiers.

Bill Broun is a freshman member of Saucon Valley School Board. He is a professor at East Stroudsburg University and a novelist. Visit for more information about the board.


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William Broun

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