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UPSD Removes Hofkin as President
Written by Bradley Schlegel, Staff Writer
2020-06-17

            Moments before the vote that ended her tenure as president of the Upper Perkiomen School Board, Raeann Hofkin refused to apologize for her social media activity decried by many residents as transphobic. She dared her fellow members to remove her from the leadership position.

            "Apparently the squeaky wheel and all these threatening emails was enough to make this politically motivated witch hunt a success," Hofkin said. "So go ahead, vote me down. I'm not apologizing, and I'm not removing myself as president."

            A few minutes later, the board voted to remove Hofkin from the leadership role.  The members approved three action items added to the June 11 Zoom meeting agenda condemning her actions related to a Facebook post earlier this month. The message included a photo of Dr. Rachel Levine – Pennsylvania's Health Secretary and a transwoman – and the words, "Spoken like a true dicktator."

In a message posted two days later on its Facebook page, the Upper Perkiomen Education Association thanked the board "for standing up for those that are marginalized, and for reminding us that Upper Perk is no place for hate."

            Hofkin will remain on the nine-person board. Kerry Drake was elected as her successor during the meeting, which lasted more than 3 ½ hours. Drake previously led the board for two years before Hofkin succeeded him in December.

            Hofkin cast the only vote opposing the measure to end her seven-month tenure as board president. She also voted against a statement of disapproval for her inappropriate comments on social media.

            However, Hofkin voted to support a motion approving a statement by the members denouncing the post. The vote was 9-0. Drake said the board should have approved a statement one week earlier.

            "This isn't easy," said Vice President Mike Elliot, who made the motion to add all three items to the agenda.

            Those serving as the president of the board and the school superintendent are expected to meet certain expectations of behavior, according to Member Judith S. Maginnis, who seconded all three motions made by Elliot. Maginnis said they must be expected to at least follow the same standards set for students.

            Drake strongly implored Hofkin to apologize for the post and step down from her leadership post. He described the resignation as necessary to allow the district to continue to move forward. Drake asked that she act "in the spirit of all that has we've been trying to build over the last decade in this district."

            Following the votes, Member Keith McCarrick credited Hofkin for "standing firm" in her beliefs. He said people don't like her because of the way she speaks.

            "You've been a target for years. We know that," McCarrick said. "I can't fault you for holding people accountable. Some people challenge you. I challenge all of you to live up to your words and do the right thing."

            Melanie Cunningham said she agreed with McCarrick's sentiments. She described Hofkin as a great member of the board.  "I'm sorry that the community does not see what goes on here. They can't see all the hard work and dedicated people we have here."

            Soon after calling the meeting into order, Hofkin explained that Gov. Tom Wolf was the target of her ire. She apologized to members of the board and school administrators for forcing them to deal with the issue.

            "I have to figure out how not to be a distraction," said Hofkin, adding that she didn't do anything against the LGBTQ community. "One person's poor judgment can bring down the entire work of the board. It won't happen again."

            However, she asserted her right to have and express her political opinions. Hofkin said her willingness to not shy away from those beliefs is part of the reason she got elected.

            Elliot expressed extreme disappointment that Hofkin did not apologize to those the post might have hurt the most. He cited a recent study that found 23.6 percent of students reported that they do not feel safe and that 24 percent have experienced bullying in school.

            "We have to consider how people feel about our actions whether they are intended or not," Elliot said. "This has been a rough week for a lot of people. We talk the talk (of increasing social inclusion). We need to walk the walk."

            Of the 34 residents who spoke during the meeting, 29 encouraged the members to vote to remove Hofkin as president. Four expressed their opposition to the trio of action items.

            Mike Long implored the board to remove Hofkin as the board president. Long described her as a liability to the district.  "Make this place somewhere people want to come," he said.

            Coren Strawbridge, who described herself as an Upper Hanover resident and an Upper Perkiomen graduate denounced Hofkin's post as hate speech.

            Lynnette Madden, an East Greenville resident, expressed concerns about other members of the local LGBTQ community. Madden suggested that the board look deeper at Hofkin's other social media posts. "I believe the school board deserves better than this," Madden said.

            Vince Leskusky, a high school teacher in the district, says it stretches "plausibility to the extreme" to think the board member would misspell a sixth-grade word phallically. He asked rhetorically what would happen to a teacher who acted similarly.

            Carol Elias, a Red Hill resident and the parent of a transgender child, requested that Hofkin step down from her role. Further, Elias stated that people make jokes about issues they don't understand. Either way, Elias suggested that the board create a committee to build awareness of what it means to be transgender.

            Joseph Van Wagner, an Upper Hanover resident, described the discussion as "a modern day witch hunt."  Van Wagner said he could not say if Hofkin has bigoted feelings. 

Matthew Newman argued that voting to remove her as board president would violate her First Amendment rights.

            However, Solicitor Kyle J. Somers assured multiple members that a vote to remove Hofkin would not impact her Civil Rights. According to Somers, the board president serves at the pleasure of majority of the board and can be removed at any time.

            Several residents on the call requested that Hofkin resign from the board or that the other members remove her. However, a board member can only be removed for not coming to meetings or for moving out of the district, according to the solicitor.


 

 

 

 

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