Octorara Board Receives Capacity Crowd Amid Controversy

The Octorara Area School District Board of Directors held its monthly Regular Meeting, and Finance and Policy Committee Meetings on March 16, 2015. All Board Members were in attendance.

During the meeting, the Board approved all listed recommended action items.

Support for Octorara Performing Arts Department

How To Succeed In Business Without Really TryingAs you may recall, last week I wrote of Leon Lapp’s disappointment in the Octorara Performing Arts Department selection of How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying.. He felt a musical should have been chosen that did not included “bad language” and “sexual themes.”

Since that time, the Board and Administration received many emails in support of the Performing Arts Department, director Joe Lynch, the student actors, the supporting staff and parents, and for the musical in general.

At this week’s meeting, a crowd of approximately 175 parents, students, and teachers came to voice their opinions. All but one speaker voiced opposition and offence to the negative comments toward the production, several citing a LancasterOnline article written by Debbie Wygent. One lone parent voiced concern that high school students were asked to perform in a production with strong language and themes, and that parents were put in a position of supporting their child’s performance vs their moral sensibilities, but did want to make clear he was not at all criticizing the student actors.

Dr. Tom Newcome, Superintendent, stated that the responsibility for the decision to run the musical rests solely with him. He made the final call, and no one else should be held accountable. Additionally, he stated that the School Board is not interventionist, meaning they/we allow him to run the School District without being micromanaged. If there comes a point that the Board’s opinion of how he runs the District becomes poor, they will simply fire him.

Lisa Bowman, Board President, responded stating that while it seems the majority do not agree with Mr Lapp’s opinions, he has a right to voice them. She also assured the crowd that the comments were not negative toward the students, and asked that people watch the recorded Board Meetings on thecube.com, or read the Meeting Minutes, to get to correct context, and not rely solely on news articles.

Brian Norris, Board Vice-President, stated that he believed the LancasterOnline article intentionally overdramatized the comments, and left out Board comments praising the students’ work. The article left out Mr. Norris’ own comments that he had a child in the performance, and saw nothing wrong with the content of the musical. He believes Ms Wygent’s article was neither fair nor balanced, and was written with the intent to sensationalize and manufacture controversy.

Hank Oleyniczak, Board Member, explained to the crowd that this was nothing more than a discussion of policy between the Board and the Superintendent. “This is what we do,” he said, reminding everyone of the process the Board went through for passing the Armed Security Guard. “We express our opinions. We discuss. We debate.” It was simply a Board Member questioning if it was a good idea to perform PG rated material at our High School. It was not an attack of the Performing Arts Department, nor the students.

Sheri Melton, Board Member, stated that she was not going to express her personal opinion, but wanted to use the opportunity to question, “What does PG mean?” She remembered watching  I Love Lucy, a sitcom from the 1950s, in which a married couple was shown sleeping in separate beds and a bad word was never spoken. Her point being that the PG rating has changed over the decades, for better or worse.

Finally, Mr Lapp spoke. He squarely placed blame for manufacturing a controversy on the shoulders of LancasterOnline correspondent Debbie Wygent. He stated that the article excluded his praise of the students’ performances, and did not provide a full picture of what was said.

This is not the first time the Board has called Debbie Wygent into question. You may remember that back in September 2014, Wygent manufactured an article about the Nepotism/Cronyism Policy discussions that had no basis in reality, and used false quotes from the Board President, Lisa Bowman, to support it. Revisions were made to that article, after Bowman contacted the Editor, but LancasterOnline continued to omit the true reason why the Nepotism Policy, along with the others, were being reviewed.

Mr Lapp then drifted off into comments questioning the idea that a Public School education should be a secular education, at least while there is no School Choice option for parents. He believes that his child being forced to learn Big Bang Theory is nonsense, and an infringement of his religious freedoms, just for his child to get a diploma.

Drug Testing and Code of Conduct Policies

The Policy Committee got their first look at draft policy for the 2015-16 Handbook regarding student-athlete use of illegal substances.

One of the goals, set by the Committee, was to replace the current “One Strike” policy with a more comprehensive and thoughtful policy, with appropriate consequences that include having violators complete Drug and Alcohol Counseling Services.

Questions focused on, “How do we handle Off Campus violations?” Currently, if there is clear and convincing evidence that an athlete was drinking alcoholic beverages or using illegal drugs, he/she will be dismissed from their team for the season on the first offence (One Strike). The Committee is looking for the Administration to create, along with more thoughtful consequences, a Burden of Proof standard that does not rely hearsay, social media, or rumours.

The Committee also wants to continue to allow coaches the right to establish conduct contracts for their respective teams. However, these contracts should conform to the Burden of Proof standard being worked on.

The discussion then moved to the potential Drug Testing Policy. Lisa Bowman questioned, “What are we trying to solve for?” She questioned the effectiveness of catching maybe 2 or 3 students a year, if others don’t ever get caught.

Those speaking in support of a Drug Testing Policy were Brian Norris, Hank Oleyniczak, and myself.

The issue is, and many agree, that we have a growing drug problem within the District. The Drug Testing policy would be a multipurpose tool. It does help identify students that may have an issue, but it also gives students a reason to “Just Say No.”

The Policy also helps to clearly convey to young people, what the Community Standard and tolerance level is for illegal drug use. A handful of parents expressed the notion that Drug Testing stomps on Parental Rights and Responsibilities. I disagree. This is about Community Rights and Responsibilities, and the Community’s Right and Responsibility to convey a message of intolerance to drug use in the face of a conflicting message from Popular Culture. In order to grow into a good person, it is my firmly held belief that a child needs three things: good parenting, a good education, and a good community. The School District, and the Community as a whole, has a responsibility to these children that they cannot wash their hand of.

Budget Update

Expect a vote on the Proposed Final Budget at the April Regular Meeting. The early vote is caused by the requirement to give the Public 30 days notice to review. If the Board waits until May, there will not be enough time.

Expect to see a Budget that has the Chester County property tax increasing from 36.66 Mills to 37.50 Mills, and the Lancaster County property tax increasing from 26.43 Mills to 27.20 Mills. The increase represents the maximum allowed by the Act 1 Index without making use of exemptions. There will also be a $1.7 Million use of Fund Balance.


16 thoughts on “Octorara Board Receives Capacity Crowd Amid Controversy

  1. Mr. Lapp is wrong again about ‘not’ having school choice. There are charter options available to him as well as home schooling if he feels Octorara is infringing on his religious beliefs. He can also ‘choose’ to send his children anywhere he wants outside the district if HE is willing to pay for HIS beliefs and not have the rest of us foot the bill so his children receive an education that denies the existence of science.

    • I know this all kicked up a hornets’ nest, but I’m not really sure why. I don’t agree with Mr Lapp’s point of view on this subject, but I think it is unfair to approach his position with shock or anger. He has always promoted the idea that the Bible should be fundamental and central to public education, and a rather literal Fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible at that.

      The common argument is that there are enough people who believe as he does that he got elected to the School Board… and that argument is made in general broadly for all local officials, from School Board to Borough Council Members. It is not my argument. My argument is these races are not at all competitive, and as a result we get what we get, but still…

      Mr Lapp has a very strong belief and conviction to his worldview, and it has not been a worldview he has been shy about sharing. I don’t share that worldview. I would fight to keep that worldview becoming the basis of a public education. However, I do have a lot of respect for Mr Lapp’s authenticity and steadfastness. He is certainly not lukewarm when it comes to his faith.

      • I think Debbie Wygent needs to take her poor reporting ability some place else because we don’t need any more drama in the district in my opinion.

  2. It is my personal belief that “It takes a village” to raise a child. That involves parents, extended family, and the community. We must not forget this. So many are too caught up in their own “bubble” nowadays.

  3. Regarding the play controversy, such things are a manifestation of the fact that our culture (the people making up our culture) has lost it’s moral conscience. The fact is, anyone who is concerned that we maintain a proper morality in the exercise of our liberties is seen as a prude. This is a very sad commentary on the current state of affairs in this nation. Unless an effort is made to challenge this downhill slide (like the two lone voices attempted to do amidst cheers in support of immorality) and awaken the conscience of our nation, it is only going to get worse. We see a generation being raised under the assumption that immorality is normal. It might, sadly, be status quo, but it IS NOT normal.

    Regarding Leon Lapp’s comment about educational options, he stated AS A TAX PAYER whose money goes to support the public educational institution, he would have to pay for a different educational option. 

    I am very curious about the response I would have gotten at the board meeting had I used vulgarity to describe my view of the situation. I am guessing that freedom of expression would have been challenged. 

    Also, I am relatively certain that there would be opposition expressed if an overtly Christian play had been chosen (if we are willing to think realistcally). I am not impressed. 

    • I suppose you would have them do such classics as Grease(parking, premarital sex, partying, guy try’s to get girl to change by smoking, wearing leather, etc) or how about the Wizard of Oz? A girl who is high on poppy kills two women, cons an entire town of dwarfs and ends up catching a ride with a much older man. Oklahoma is riddled with sexual overtones. Mick a few years back your niece was in ” Anything Goes” .Were you appalled at that show dipicting drinking, sex, etc. I bet you were proud, and that’s ok .

      • Regardless of all the attempts to make excuses and ignore reality, there are moral issues that we, as a culture, seem unequipped and unprepared to deal with – or at least, so apathetic that we are willing to discourage uprightness and, rather, defend increasing levels, displays and manifestations of immorality. Educational institutions have a responsibility to carefully evaluate what their decision communicate to young minds. I would simply say, they, for a long time and quite often, push the boundaries in the wrong direction. When parental authority gets on board and gladly rejoices in moving in the wrong direction, we have a very sad commentary on our culture.

  4. School Taxes Going Through The Roof And No Taxpayers Show Up At The Meetings,But 175 Taxpayers Show Up For A Meeting About A Play ! VERY CURIOUS ?

    • This article is misleading.
      While there was a full house, the overwhelming majority of the audience was composed of teachers who have been working without a contract for a year. That isn’t mentioned in this article. It is implied the full house was all about the musical and that wasn’t the case. Just coincidental that both groups came on the same night.

      • I’m sorry you feel that way. However, based on what happened at the public meeting, I can’t confirm that was the case. Almost all the interaction with the visitors, from those who stepped up to speak to the reactions to Board Member comments, would indicate the vast majority were there regarding the Performing Arts Department. There were some regular faces in the crowd, a few parents that came after speaking to the Policy Committee about the Drug Policy, and one person who spoke about a Track fundraising event. Otherwise, there was nothing from the public meeting that I can report which would indicate anyone was there regarding the teachers’ contract.

      • While we were proud to support our fellow colleagues on this issue that has become a hot topic in the last week or so, the 175 people in attendance that evening were primarily made up of teachers who were there remind the board and make the community aware that they have been working without a contract this year. This is a fact that unfortunately was not made clear that evening.

      • If that was the case, it was, unfortunately, an opportunity missed. I am also on the CCIU Board. The CCIUEA did a similar thing in October, and that was followed by reaching a tentative agreement in November, which was then eventually approved by their members and passed by the Board. The big difference being that it was glaringly obvious the CCIUEA was there, and why. Their representative also spoke during Visitor Comments, allowing the Board to recognize their attendance at the Meeting.

  5. There must be some mistake. Surely Mr. Alexander’s reporting of a capacity crowd of 175 at the last Board meeting must be an error, a misprint. Please tell me it was not the case that so many persons turned-out to weigh-in on the fundamentally simple and silly matter of the staging of ‘How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying,’ and, apparently and more specifically, the play’s inclusion of such jaw-dropping words as ‘hell’ and ‘damn.’ Because if that is the case, then the OASD and all the taxpayers who support it are in far deeper doo-doo than I ever imagined.

    At most board meetings, when genuinely significant matters like budget, taxes, and Common Core are being discussed, debated, and voted on, one can swing a dead cat in the peanut gallery with little fear of hitting anybody.

    And now I’m supposed to believe that a student production of a 60 year old, Tony award-winning, charming and inoffensive musical comedy play can be the catalyst for producing the largest turn-out for a board meeting in recent memory!? As I said, there must be some mistake, something just doesn’t compute.

    If the staging of one of Broadways most venerable musical comedies can cause such an uproar and create a capacity crowd at the latest board meeting, but far more important matters can barely muster a ripple, then all the stakeholders in the OASD — parents, taxpayers, administrators and teachers, and certainly including students — should not wonder for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee, for us.

    C. Vail

    P.S. If you are not familiar with it, the play in question contains one of the best songs ever written for the musical stage, ‘I Believe In You.’ Dispensing with the dramatic set-up for the song, which was the ‘money song’ for the play, the song which put the play on the consciousness of the public, just consider the lyrics to ‘I Believe In You.’

    You have the cool, clear
    Eyes of a seeker of wisdom and truth;
    Yet there’s that upturned chin
    And that grin of impetuous youth.
    Oh, I believe in you.
    I believe in you.

    I hear the sound of good, solid judgment
    Whenever you talk;
    Yet there’s the bold, brave spring of the tiger
    That quickens your walk.
    Oh, I believe in you.
    I believe in you.

    And when my faith in my fellow man
    All but falls apart,
    I’ve but to feel your hand grasping mine
    And I take heart; I take heart

    To see the cool, clear
    Eyes of a seeker of wisdom and truth;
    Yet, with the slam-bang tang
    Reminiscent of gin and vermouth.
    Oh, I believe in you.
    I believe in you.

  6. Most of the people in attendance were teachers that have been working without a contract. So there were two issues that can explain the record attendance that evening, teacher contracts as well as the musical.

  7. How many people in the peanut gallery were teachers disgruntled because they have been working without a contract for a year, versus people who were there to either lend support to or to criticize the staging of this particular play, is, in the larger sense, completely immaterial.

    On a month to month basis, as I previously said, one can swing a dead cat in the peanut gallery with little fear of hitting anyone.

    So the question is: when matters far more weighty than the staging of this particular play are in play, and when matters even far more important than the teachers’ contract are at hand, where are the concerned parties at the regular, routine, run-of-the-mill monthly board meetings? Where are the teachers and the administrators? Where are the parents? Where are local residents who don’t even have kids in the school district but who sure as hell are fed up with their high tax bill? Answer: they all, we all, are AWOL.

    I certainly include myself. Several years ago I attended board meetings on a fairly regular basis. But recently I have been lax. But at least I have attended board meetings. And based on my observation of the typical turn-out for any given board meeting, that puts me in a rather exclusive club.

    Speaking of clubs, some may seize upon my comments here to bash me for being brazenly critical of the ennui — the lack of interest and the lack of participation on the part of so many — that is characteristic of so many of the stakeholders in the OASD. To any of that mindset I say, have at it. Please. Anything to get you engaged…and hopefully off your butts, and to the next board meeting.

    Look, I’m just an old guy, recent immigrant to these parts. I never had and never will have a relative as a student in the OASD. So in one sense I have no vested interest. But in the larger sense, of course I do. I care about the kids coming up.

    And since I moved here nearly five years ago I have tried to give and become involved in numerous ways. I feel as though I have contributed to the community. Perhaps not as much as I could have, or should have, but I am nevertheless reasonably content with my contributions to date. Tim Alexander, Borough Manager Jim Thomas, and shadow-mayor Mel Keen might be inclined to agree.

    So tell me, what have you done recently to improve the community? And tell me, what will be your excuse for your ongoing failure to attend OASD board meetings, and meetings of the Parkesburg borough commissioners?

    Enquiring minds want to know.

    C. Vail

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