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UPSD Board Strips Hofkin of Committee Assignments
Written by Bradley Schlegel, Staff Writer
2021-02-03

            While condemning Raeann Hofkin for her most recent controversial action on social media, members of the Upper Perkiomen School Board expressed anger, frustration and exasperation with their colleague during last week's workshop meeting.

            Eight members addressed the public outrage created by Raeann Hofkin's Jan. 21 retweet related to Dr. Rachel Levine during the meeting, hosted on Zoom.

            Levine was recently nominated by President Biden to serve as assistant secretary for health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Levine could become the first openly transgender person to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

            Seven months ago, the members removed Hofkin as board president following a Facebook post. Her activity last month on a separate medium led to similar outrage.

            Five board members – Vice President Judith Maginnis, Peg Pennepacker, Mike Elliot, Kerry Drake and Dana Hipszer – explicitly called on their fellow member to resign.

            "Here we freaking are again," Elliot said during the Jan. 28 meeting.

            Maginnis called on Hofkin to "search her heart" and do the right thing.

Drake said her resignation would be the first step towards healing the community.  "Please do the right thing and resign," he said, reading from a prepared statement.

            Hofkin did not participate in the virtual meeting. Reached two days later, she reiterated her decision to remain on the board.  "I'm not resigning and I have nothing further to say," Hofkin wrote in a text message received Saturday afternoon.

            In a prepared statement, board President Melanie Cunningham decried Hofkin's continued demeaning of Levine as hateful language that undermines and maligns the rest of the board and district as a whole. Cunningham announced that she has stripped Hofkin of her committee assignments including policy and negotiations, where she served as chair, as well as facilities, as punishment for her recirculation of a Tweet that featured photos of Levine and Kayleigh McEnany, the last press secretary for former President Trump. "The face of America is going from this to this. God help us," reads the message originally posted on Jan. 19 by FortWorthPlayboy.

            Cunningham stated that the members do not condone the poor decisions made by one member. The president also described the immediate removal of Hofkin's committee assignments as injunctive measures that will send a clear message to Hofkin that the board will not tolerate this type of behavior.

            "At this time, this is the mechanism available to us as a board, as far as a manner of reproach," said Cunningham, whose statement was followed by an official apology from Superintendent Allyn Roche, on behalf of the district to Dr. Levine specifically, and everyone negatively impacted by this situation.

            Roche reaffirmed the school community's commitment to the "important work around diversity, unity, kindness and inclusion for everyone in our district." He stated that the district's goal is to develop students who are able to be respectful of different perspectives, think critically, and function as a supportive community, as well as support one another.

            In June, the members voted to censure Hofkin and remove her as board president of the board after her Facebook post that included a photo of Levine and the words, "Spoken like a true dicktator [sic]."

           Soon after calling the June 11 meeting was called to 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.

            Speaking extemporaneously, Elliot said late last month that he could not believe the board was dealing with similar issues created by Hofkin last summer. He asked rhetorically why the member, who recently commented on the need to support students' mental health, would want to add to that pressure.

            "We told Raeann seven months ago that her social media posts hurt the district, our students and the community," Elliot said. "We made that abundantly clear when we removed her as president. We made it clear that every single student matters."

            Elliot was encouraged by the large number of constituents who have shared their disdain for Hofkin's comments. The member said the reactions give him inspiration that a majority of the people in this community care about their neighbors.  "It gives me hope that this community is not about bigotry or hate," Elliot said.

            Maginnis, who stated that she is discouraged and angry that the board needs to again address issues created by Hofkin, described her posts as "divisive, insulting, discriminatory and the opposite of everything I hold dear." She said the board and the administrators have been embarrassed by Hofkin's behavior.

            Drake said he felt "absolutely disgusted and furious" that the superintendent needed to apologize for the behavior of a board member. Additionally he stated that the wounds created from Hofkin's initial social media incident, which were starting to heal, have been reopened and deepened.  "I cannot say any more strongly how much I abhor this language, and how hurtful it has been to this community and the children," Drake said. "There's no going back to business as usual."

            Hipszer and Pennepacker both described Hofkin's retweet as poor judgment. Pennepacker said that Hofkin should have been prepared to deal with the blowback from the "marketplace of ideas" allowed by the First Amendment.  "That's part of the deal," said Pennepacker, who added that Hofkin's posts do not reflect her beliefs or values. "I'm upset because a board member's free speech is so egregious and exemplifies the very actions that we oppose in our schools; bullying, hate creating a toxic culture."

            Keith McCarrick said he would not condemn or support Hofkin's actions, but stated that the board should strive to give students the best experience it can.  "We should not berate people for their differences," said McCarrick, who also wished to echo the comments of Cunningham and Maginnis.

            Only one of several public speakers expressed support for Hofkin. Levi Parson, of Red Hill, accused the board of bullying the embattled member. He claimed the board was perpetuating cancel culture and that Hofkin had a lot of support.  "Freedom of speech is dying in our country and our community," Parson said.

            Hope Manion described Cunningham's statement as a disappointment. The Hereford resident called it a campaign speech.  Manion claimed the statement did not acknowledge the damage Hofkin's actions inflicted on the students or constituents. She said the Melanie Cunningham's statement blamed the rancor on the board's constituents.

            "It's not on us," Manion said. "It's on you. You failed to make a difference last time."

            Manion challenged the members to vote to remove Hofkin for neglect of duty. However, Solicitor Kyle Somers said that is not an option under the law. He said that remedy could be undertaken if residents file a legal petition.

            Somers said he would advise the other members to avoid that action. According to the solicitor, the board does not have the authority to remove a member, absent some very particular circumstances "that are not currently present."


 

 

 

 

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