Ten candidates are running in the general election for Central Bucks School District school board in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, on Nov. 7, 2023. Five districts are up for election: Central Bucks Board of Directors Regions 1, 2, 3, 6, and 8.
The district had approximately 17,570 students during the 2021-2022 school year.
Heading into the election, the board has a 6-3 Republican majority. Of the five regions up for election, Republicans represent three, while Democrats represent two. Republicans need to win at least two of the five regions to maintain a majority. Democrats need to win at least four of the five regions to secure a majority.
- Incumbent Karen Smith (D) and Stephen Mass (R) are running in Region 1.
- Incumbent Dana Hunter (R) and Heather Reynolds (D) are running in Region 2.
- Dana Foley (D) and Glenn Schloeffel (R) are running in Region 3.
- Rick Haring (D) and Aarati P. Martino (R) are running in Region 6.
- Susan M. Gibson (D) and Tony Arjona (R) are running in Region 8.
Smith, Reynolds, Foley, Haring, and Gibson are the Democrats running as the Neighbors United for School Board slate of candidates. They are campaigning against the school board’s book and neutrality policies. On the slate’s website, the candidates said, “Central Bucks Schools should have elected school board directors who respect their citizen oversight responsibility. These directors should honor and uphold the mission of CBSD to provide all students with the academic and problem-solving skills essential for personal development, responsible citizenship, and lifelong learning.” Neighbors United said it supports “candidates who respect our students and staff as individuals, commit to supporting public education, and will improve classroom resource funding.” The slate opposes “book banning, anti-LGBTQA+ policies, and ‘culture war’ politics.”
Hunter, Mass, Schloeffel, Martino, and Arjona are the Republicans running as the Central Bucks Forward slate of candidates. On the slate’s website, the candidates said that, “Every student deserves an education focused on reaching their full potential. Parents need to be full partners in that process, not bystanders. The school board is the place where we shape the blueprint for a bright future for every student. We do that with civility, respect, and professionalism. That’s our commitment.” The slate lists the following priorities: “employ School Resource Officers to protect schools and build bridges with students; launch full-day kindergarten and STEM Academy; reverse Covid learning losses by shifting from controversy to classroom excellence; design and deploy curriculum focused on preparing students for tomorrow’s jobs; and nurture civil debate to protect the voices of students, parents, and teachers.”
The election follows two noteworthy events. In July 2022, the board voted along partisan lines to allow parents to “challenge a book in a school library if it depicts implied or actual nudity or ‘sexual acts’.” A committee of librarians, teachers, and administrators then determine if the book should remain in school libraries. Later in January 2023, the board voted along partisan lines for a neutrality policy, which forbids district employees from advocating to students on “‘partisan, political, or social policy matters,’ or display any ‘flag, banner, poster, sign, sticker, pin, button, insignia, paraphernalia, photograph, or other similar material that advocates concerning any partisan, political, or social policy issue.’”
Hunter voted in favor of both policies and said, “A major mischaracterization of the proposed library policy is that it’s a book ban. That is unequivocally untrue. The policy is intended to prioritize materials that support and enrich curriculum and/or students’ personal interests and learning. The policy states that books should be appropriate for the subject area and for the age, intellectual development and ability level of the students for whom the material is selected.” She said the neutrality policy bans, “Blue Lives Matter flags, anti-abortion flags or any other flags that advocate on social policy issues,” adding that “[t]his policy will allow teachers and students to focus on learning in an environment of mutual respect.”
Smith voted against both policies and said, “I was deeply disappointed by the passage of the library book policy. … Unfortunately, even the overall literary merit of a book does not prevent it from being removed from our libraries under this policy. The books being challenged are also disproportionately representative of LGBTQ authors or characters or BIPOC authors or characters.” She said of the neutrality policy, “A classroom can never be a neutral place. Instead, we should be striving to teach our students to navigate a world of differences and not sterilize our schools. The only neutral walls would be blank walls. Unless we are going to have nothing on the walls, this goal of neutrality is a fallacy.”
Additional reading: Pennsylvania school board elections, 2023