Residents declare ‘war’ against South Western school board’s extremism

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When Republicans took the majority of South Western School District’s (SWSD) board in York County last December, the new ultra-conservative board president Matthew Gelazela made it clear that he was going to chart a severely anti-LGBTQ path. Now, a large coalition of activists, resident professionals and educators have stepped up to challenge Gelazela and his extremist allies.

On May 8, this coalition — led by a group called the Hanover Area Diversity Alliance — released the text of an open letter to be sent to the SWSD board members, calling on them to cease and desist their pursuit of various anti-LGBTQ policies. The Alliance was joined by The Valley: People Power and Caring Communities, an area social media advocacy group organized and led by Matthew Jackson.

The letter was signed by over 70 residents and community professionals. According to the Alliance and the Valley’s press release, “The 70-plus signers below bring with them over 500 years of professional services to South Western School District and over 700 years of professional services to public education as a whole.”

The letter was published in its entirety by the Hanover Evening Sun, and on the Valley’s social media pages. At press time, the SWSD administration has not returned PGN’s calls for a response.

Jackson, who is the editorial coordinator of the Valley’s social media page as well as an alumnus of South Western, called the letter “the opening salvo in a war against this board’s extremist agenda.” Jackson believes the number of signatories to the letter would have been more than double if the educators currently employed by SWSD were not fearful of retaliation.

The letter cites an inaugural statement made by Gelazela which outlined his extremist MAGA-centric agenda: “We will mandate the categorization of all our school materials to enable parents to prohibit their child’s access to materials on sexual orientation, transgenderism, Communist/Marxist support, specific religious or political ideologies, and racial divides…. Your new board believes in its legitimate sovereignty to decide locally what is best for our community schools and children. The state and federal dictates will have their legitimacy questioned and rejected if unconstitutional or overtly overreaching their authority.”

The letter specifies several of the current board’s policies and/or acts that the coalition opposes. These include: “1.) pushing for a school-wide ‘categorization’ for each of thousands of books in each of the accredited educators’ classroom libraries — de facto censorship and a de facto book ban; 2.) the proposed policy 216.2, which limits the rights of students to being referred to by a preferred name, the most basic building block of identity, self-worth and confidence; and 3.) reversing the former school board’s carefully considered and laid out bathroom policy, with five types of bathrooms including a unisex bathroom, designed to protect the safety and well-being of ALL students.”

The letter also describes the harm the board’s actions are inflicting on students, such as marginalization, trauma, bullying and demoralization. Additionally, the coalition warns that the school district could face serious legal liability in state and/or federal courts if it continues to mandate discriminatory policies in defiance of Title IX and other state and federal laws.

Jackson says that, in his experience, “South Western’s discriminatory agenda is the most extreme of any school district in the state.”

In fact, this is not the first time that Gelazela received a warning of this nature. When the Republicans first took over the board and announced their agenda last fall, Gelazela was informed at the time by SWSD administrators and the district’s legal counsel that they could face serious legal consequences if they pursued their agenda, which, among other things, would violate federal Title IX laws. Gelazela responded by announcing a search for a conservative legal firm to represent the district should they get into hot water.

Jackson is unwilling to comment as to what the next “salvo” might be if a satisfactory response from SWSD is not forthcoming.

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