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East Penn News

At East Penn, opposing slates hope to win leadership as concerns of campaign connections linger

East Penn Candidates
Courtesy / Jay Bradley
The 2023 East Penn School Board Candidates, consisting of the slate endorsed by Defend East Penn (top) and the Your Voice on the Board slate (bottom)

  • A heated race has emerged for East Penn School Board, with five spots up for grabs and only two incumbents running
  • Questions of national political issues and influence have surrounded the race, with accusations of extremism directed toward candidates based on connections and donations
  • Election Day takes is Nov. 7

EMMAUS, Pa. — Two full slates of five candidates each for East Penn School Board made it through a heated primary election in May, and the race continues to see concerns of partisan influence and heightened rhetoric from supporting PACs.

Five seats on East Penn school board will be determined on Election Day on Nov. 7, with three incumbents — Paul Champagne, Allan Byrd, and Jen Bowen — not seeking re-election.

That leaves incumbents Jeffrey Jankowski, a Republican, and Joshua Levinson, a Democrat, joining a slate with political newcomers Gabrielle Klotz and Shonta Ford, both Democrats, and Republican Timothy Kelly to oppose a Republican roster of political newcomers called Your Voice on the Board: Paul Barbehenn, Kristofer DePaolo, Lawrence Huyssen, Matt Mull and Angelic Schneider.

Two political action committees have emerged to back the two competing slates of candidates, with each raising more than $10,000 from political and financial players in and outside of the district, relatives and some current board members.

The funding and alleged connections have raised concerns about partisan priorities and influence beyond the local school district, giving the race a heightened drama of national political concerns and alleged connections.

East Penn is not alone in school board race drama, with heated races in districts including Parkland, Southern Lehigh and others.

The Your Voice on the Board slate is endorsed by the Lehigh County Republican Committee.

It lists its main priorities as academic improvement and improvement in school safety and student discipline.

The opposing slate has been endorsed by the Lehigh County Democratic Committee.

The group has listed priorities such as increasing mental health support, creating safe and welcoming environments, closing learning gaps and ensuring an engaging curriculum.

A representative for the East Penn Education Association teachers' union said that the group has endorsed Jankowski, Ford, Klotz and Kelly.

The group did not make a statement about why Levinson was not endorsed following the primary but noted concerns regarding transparency toward the Your Voice slate, such as Schneider's handling of the presentation of her role at Metro Beauty Academy.

A candidate forum will be held by the Lehigh County League of Women Voters at 7 p.m. Oct. 17 in the Lutheran Church of the Holy Spirit, 461 S. Cedar Crest Blvd., Emmaus.

The slate of Levinson, Ford, Klotz, Jankowski and Kelly will participate in full while only Mull and DePaolo from the Your Voice slate will participate.

Outside funding & influence in question

As candidates do their final door knockings and campaign pushes, other factors have come into play beyond their individual messaging and public displays.

The Your Voice PAC has received $5,000 from venture capitalist Paul Martino of Doylestown, whose recent pledges to donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to Pennsylvania school board races have been centered on conservative cultural wedge issues.

That helped the group raise more than $22,0000 for the Your Voice PAC, compared with about $11,000 raised by 30 days after the primary by the Valley Values (Defend East Penn) PAC.

Martino is known nationally for donating $500,000 of his own money to the PAC in the 2021 school board races. Some of that money went to state Sen. Jarrett Coleman’s campaign for Parkland School Board, where he got his political start.

Martino's group also recently gave $5,000 to the Parkland Republican candidate slate Elevate Education at an event last month.

Other donors include state Rep. Milou Mackenzie, and regional business executives David and Catherine Jaindl (Jaindl Land Co.), Anthony Salvaggio (Computer Aid Inc.), Daniel and Oriana Hood (I'll Be There Inc.) and Andrew and Ann Wright (Vinart dealerships).

Barbehenn and others on the slate said that the donation and others do not have a significant impact on the Your Voice slate's views or priorities.

"My entire purpose for entering this race...it was not to deal with all these national partisan issues," Barbehenn said.

"The political parties do their best to drag you into them, and these outside PACs do their best to drag you into them. And as a result, you know, we end up talking about them.

"But these, these are not things we're talking about with voters, these aren't priorities of ours, these aren't things that we're spending a lot of time and energy on, because it's not the reason that we ran."

DePaolo said, "To my knowledge, no one within our slate has met with or even spoken to Mr. Martino. To date we have not received any further donations from him. Evidently, our focus on the local issues and our unwillingness to embrace the national issues has resulted in a cessation of additional funding."

Then there's the issue of alleged connections to local groups that also have raised vocal concerns from the opposition to the Your Voice group.

Earlier this year, before the slate opposing the Your Voice group had formed, the leader of the conservative advocacy group Restoring Excellence in East Penn Education, or REEPE, was reported to have spoken of an unpublicized connection to the Your Voice group and his group's beliefs at a chapter meeting for Moms for Liberty, while passing out campaign literature for the group.

Moms for Liberty — Lehigh County is a chapter of a national conservative advocacy group that has advocated for restricting classroom materials and library books, and banning transgender athletes from playing on teams that align with their gender identity.

The civil rights watchdog group Southern Poverty Law Center has said the national Moms for Liberty organization is an extremist group because of its advocating for book bans in school libraries and calling for actions such as the abolition of the U.S. Education Department and spreading hateful imagery and rhetoric against the LGBTQ community.

REEPE is led by Frank Dumbleton, who candidates say is a member of the Lehigh County Republican Committee and a frequent presence at East Penn School Board meetings.

"They had a script going into this election, before anything really started, and they're just sticking with it as painting us as extreme, or myself as extreme when we're when we're not."
Matthew Mull, Your Voice on the Board candidate

Dumbleton has used talking points about "critical race theory" and discussions regarding gender identity in the district, in addition to concerns about test scores.

He is a signee on the Your Voice on the Board's PAC registration as the one who submitted the group's documents to the Lehigh County Board of Elections.

Dumbleton did not respond to efforts to reach him at the Lehigh County Republican Committee at the time of the primaries.

Candidates on the Your Voice group have voiced opposition to cultural issues, such as DePaolo's opposition to the cost of a survey that gauges social relationships at the school, and a July interview with Schneider in which she said that the district was "allowing certain teachers to push their own political agendas."

Aggressive campaign against challengers

The opposing slate's supporters have continued to say Your Voice is connected to REEPE and Moms for Liberty.

A group called Defend East Penn has declared its support for the slate formed in opposition to Your Voice on the Board.

Members of that group say the slate opposing the Your Voice candidates including incumbents Levinson and Jankowski are "defenders" who are "committed to stopping extremism" from these groups.

Defend East Penn and its parent organization, Valley Values PAC, describes itself as "a community-driven organization, operating out of concern for extremist politics sweeping school board elections across our state and nation."

Defend East Penn says its intent is to "refrain from partisan warfare and ideological vendettas," but on its website it has tied Your Voice candidates to the extremism of Moms for Liberty and REEPE because of Dumbleton's support of these candidates at the Moms for Liberty meeting.

Your Voice candidates Mull and Barbehenn have denied the accusations of extremism that have come from those issues. All five candidates on the Your Voice slate were quick to deny any connection to REEPE, and said they intentionally rejected any support from groups such as Moms for Liberty.

"I do have concerns about the troubling things that I have heard about the opposing slate with respect to extremism"
Joshua Levinson

"When [Moms for Liberty] invited us, we just declined," Mull said. "But yet, [Defend East Penn] have this mantra that they're just keep beating.

"They had a script going into this election, before anything really started, and they're just sticking with it as painting us as extreme, or myself as extreme when we're when we're not."

A post on the slate's Facebook page states, "For the record, we are NOT part of either group. We have NOT sought an endorsement or funding from either group. Their agenda is NOT our agenda."

Candidates from the second slate have denied any direct connection to Defend East Penn, its campaign efforts and content. However, financial documents note Levinson's relatives are among those who supported the PAC leading the group.

Other donors include unions, PACs supporting Democratic candidates, Rep. Susan Wild, and current board members William Whitney, Paul Champagne and Allan Byrd

"It's a separate group, and not something that's directed by us," Levinson said. "But that's certainly something that we appreciate. Because it's concerned citizens that want to share the same outlook that we do.

"I do have concerns about the troubling things that I have heard about the opposing slate with respect to extremism."

Barbehenn and other candidates on his slate said they believe that Aidan Levinson, incumbent Joshua Levinson's son, is a major player in the Defend East Penn site, which contains detailed biographies of each supported candidate.

"And it is brazenly dishonest to claim you are being non-partisan and transparent in the process," Barbehenn said.

Here's a look at the candidates.

Angelic Schneider

Schneider, a Parkland School District teacher who has two children in East Penn Schools, said she's running because she thinks the board needs to be more responsive and receptive to parents.

She is running in the Your Voice on the Board slate under the Republican ticket.

She also has worked at Metro Beauty Academy, a cosmetology and esthetics trade school, which is owned by her husband.

She said she had been a part of the facilities and operations committee at the high school, is involved in the middle school report card planning committee and runs teacher appreciation events at Eyer Middle School.

She said she is a big advocate for the special education department and advocates for parents and friends working through the IEP process — through which she went for her son.

Angelic Schneider
Angelic Schneider
Angelic Schneider, candidate on the Your Voice on the Board slate.

Addressing overcrowding and moving education efforts forward after the coronavirus pandemic remain high priorities for her, she said.

She referenced expenses related to survey efforts and other programs, and expressed interest in examining what contracted services can be brought in-house to save costs.

Schneider said she doesn't currently see social tension regarding race or LGBTQ issues among students at the school, and said teachers should treat each student fairly.

However an interview in July with the group "Broad + Liberty" she noted concerns about written assignment topics offered including "white privilege, sanctuary cities, police brutality and Black Lives Matter," and concerns about transgender students' bathroom access.

"As a board member it is the responsibility of the board to make decisions that are in the best interest of all members of the community," Schneider said when asked to elaborate.

"As an educator, it is our responsibility to teach the curriculum and leave one's own personal political ideologies out of the classrooms."

Defend East Penn has attacked candidate Schneider over alleged leadership in Metro Beauty Academy while it had to make a $425,000 settlement with federal authorities over falsely seeking federal aid for ineligible students.

Schneider said she has never had legal ownership over the company, which she said was established in 2007 by Chief Executive Officer Gary Menzies and Schneider's husband, Chad Schneider.

She said she never had a title at the company and has active lawsuits pending for defamation of character related to the accusation.

However, an archived campaign biography published by the Your Voice group on its site states that she had "owned and operated a cosmetology and esthetics trade school for the last 16 years" alongside her husband.

Jeffrey Jankowski

Current school board Vice President Jeffrey Jankowski is seeking a second full term after being elected in 2019 following his appointment to fill a vacancy.

He is running in the slate supported by Defend East Penn and the Lehigh County Democratic Committee under the Democratic ticket, but is a registered Republican.

Jankowski said his slate being bipartisan is a strength because of its ability to work together despite personal differences.

An Emmaus High graduate, he has been an attorney for PP&L for nearly a decade and has been involved in local volunteer efforts such as coaching and other community efforts.

He said the school district gave him and his wife what they needed to succeed in life, and he wants to ensure others have that.

"I want to make sure, not just for my own kids, but for all of our kids that they're provided, and East Penn continues to provide, an environment and the resources that are necessary for building strong educational and social and life foundations," Jankowski said.

He said he's proud of how he and the administration navigated the coronavirus pandemic, despite the volatility and political nature of any decision made on the limited information they had initially.

"Was I happy that I had three kids who were home and being taught virtually? No," Jankowski said. "And I don't think I don't think anyone in the right mind can say that.

"We handled it well throughout. There were no rash decisions, or no politically made decisions. We listened to the experts, we listened to the states, we consulted with other schools in the Lehigh Valley and the Northeast Pennsylvania."

Jeff Jankowski
Jeffrey Jankowski
Incumbent Jeffrey Jankowski, who is running on the mixed slate of incumbents and newcomers.

He acknowledged that education was set back by the pandemic nationwide, but said the administration now has the proper focus to catch students up, including during current budget discussions.

Unlike Levinson, Jankowski voted against the detracking general-level courses measure that has been a top concern among the opposing slate. He said he still doesn't favor it, but will respect the decision.

Improving academics post-pandemic is very important, he said, noting recent curriculum changes and improving access to academic interventionists the board recently added.

He said the district's financial position is very strong and that he is "100% in favor" of supporting the district's inclusion efforts and making sure students are supported and feel safe in the district.

He said it's "unfortunate" that some candidates have created a "fast narrative" about the school district based on "national extreme right-wing rhetoric" similar to what is being heard in districts such as Parkland and Southern Lehigh to manufacture fear.

"Because quite frankly, if you ask a student, none of the students are concerned," Jankowski said about the inclusivity efforts of the district.

Matthew Mull

Mull said both his parents were teachers — one for kindergarten through eighth grade and the other in vocational education. That, he said, gave him a perspective of seeing very different types of teachers in the same household.

He is running in the Your Voice on the Board slate under the Republican ticket.

Mull said his engineering background as senior commercial operations manager at Solesis gives him a lot of problem-solving skills working with people of a wide variety of personal and educational backgrounds.

He said he also has been very involved in his children's activities as a coach and in other capacities.

Mull said the issue of detracking and how that was handled also was a motivator in his decision to run.

He also ran to fill a vacant seat in January 2022, and continued growing his interest after that process.

He said he has kept engaged with and attended many school board meetings and Lower Macungie Township meetings, trying to be an active citizen.

Matt Mull
Matt Mull
Matt Mull, candidate on the Your Voice on the Board slate.

He said some of his priorities include improving the culture and eliminating any fear of repercussions or being passed over in future efforts if those in the district wish to speak out against proposals, and finding ways to increase transparency.

As with other candidates on his slate, Mull cited efforts such as surveying that could be brought in-house to save cost and support reducing individual financial burden for extracurricular events.

Asked about social inclusion, he said he sees the attitude and programs from elementary through high school as good, and that it's important that children feel included.

However, he said efforts will need continuous discussion about the district's goals, and there needs to be a balance between social and emotional learning efforts and the academic.

"What's the end game?" Mull said. "Do people still feel we have much further to go, or is it a matter of taking what were the programs that are already in place, and letting those programs do their job."

He said that since the primaries, he learned a lot from talking to teachers and local people, noting a "sense of dissatisfaction there" among some rank and file.

He said that despite running as a slate, he hopes he still can speak for himself and condemned the heightened rhetoric surrounding the race.

Joshua Levinson

Current board president Levinson is seeking a second full term after being appointed in 2018 and elected in 2019. He has had two children graduate from Emmaus High School.

He is running in the slate supported by Defend East Penn and the Lehigh County Democratic Committee under the Democratic ticket.

He has been an engineer in the semiconductor and pharmaceutical fields and formerly taught at Lafayette College. He said his engineering background prepares him to analyze data and problems before the board to build plans and solve problems.

He is among East Penn's four representatives on Lehigh Career and Technical Institute's Joint Operating Committee and on the East Penn School District Education Foundation board.

He said building a positive district climate is important, and supports work to support mental health personnel and programming, as well as promoting financial relief for local low-income residents.

Joshua Levinson East Penn SD board president and candidate.jpg
Wesley Works
Joshua Levinson, East Penn SD board president is running for reelection in 2023.

The administration is keeping up to date on all the best safety practices and equipment to manage external threats to schools, he said, and the staff and board maintain a good fiscal policy and management.

Levinson disagrees with those who say the board is not listening to or being responsive to what's going on.

"Everybody on the board, including myself, makes an effort to listen and communicate and know what's going on so that it helps us to inform us on decisions," he said.

He said that includes efforts to make board meetings more accessible to people via livestreams.

Regarding the issue of detrackingand criticism he has received for voting to do so, he said, "I can certainly speak for myself that I heard, I listened and I have internalized everything that was said there, and that it's important to use that information in terms of making decisions and making things better ...

"There's some people that didn't feel like they were heard, and, you know, that's an active area to make things better and to improve. So I certainly don't feel myself to be someone who was ignoring anybody in that regard, I care very deeply about what goes on in the district."

He noted his slate is bipartisan and that, "the fringe and extremist elements have not backed down" since the primary, and states concerns about social issues at the district include claims that are "sensational and inaccurate and which were stated without attribution or sourcing."

Paul Barbehenn

Barbehenn, a Lehigh Valley native, said he moved back to the area and chose East Penn School District to call home based on its reputation.

He is running in the Your Voice on the Board slate under the Republican ticket.

A senior wealth advisor at Mercer Advisors and father of two girls in the district, Barbehenn said he seeks to bring his experience in finance and the nonprofit sector to the school board.

He is vice president of Allentown Boys and Girls Club, with which he has worked for more than a decade, and said he has developed "a good set of skills around setting culture [and] providing leadership."

Paul Barbehenn
Paul Barbehenn
Paul Barbehenn, candidate on the Your Voice on the Board slate.

He said working on that leadership and culture is his focus, prompted in part by the vocal opposition at board meetings last year to remove the general track curriculumfrom English and Social Studies.

That move combines college-level and general-level instruction into one path and has generated passionate public debate, with some teachers speaking out against the decision.

Beyond that, Barbehenn said he wants to get involved and give back to the district and said the district is not as focused on or concerned about academic decline and challenges at the district.

"It looks like we're we continue to be pretty distracted on a number of fronts, and I want to bring this back and stay laser-focused on the academic side," Barbehenn said.

"I'm not suggesting that equity shouldn't be a focus. But in this case, I think maybe we spread our focus so thin that, at LMMS, at least, we're failing those kids on both the academic and the equity front."

He said that he generally does not favor curriculum choices that can be seen as divisive and thinks academic performance in the district is strong, but the mental health issues and social issues dominating discourse can "take us off course," so it's about "maintaining focus more than anything else."

He said the district has done a good job of managing social inclusivity and balancing the impacts of policies.

"We need to figure out how do we bring people back toward choosing something that resembles common sense, respect for each one of us individually, and not focused on just kind of big topics that are going to divide us," he said.

Of his connection to the REEPE group, Barbehenn said he first met Dumbleton as a Republican committee member after he interviewed for the open board seat in 2022, then engaged with the Facebook page and attended group meetings in 2022, but since has left it.

"I went and kicked the tires for a little bit," he said. "There was a little bit of overlap on some of the issues overall, but by and large, it wasn't in terms of how they approached issues, the lack of some of their perspective on complexity within the issues, and other things."

Shonta Ford

Asked why she wants to run for school board, Ford replied, "Why not?"

A business owner at an event planning and design company and parent of an alumnus, she said she can bring a different background than other candidates, along with a positive attitude.

She is running in the slate supported by Defend East Penn and the Lehigh County Democratic Committee under the Democratic ticket.

"I think the fact that I'm also a person of color is a positive because diversity and inclusion have become such a hot-button issue," Ford said.

"The fact of the matter is, there has to be a voice for everyone that resides within the community."

Shonta Ford
Shonta Ford
Shonta Ford, who is running on the mixed slate of incumbents and newcomers.

She previously worked in speech pathology before acting as a mental health counselor and engaging in nonprofit work.

"I think if you can work in the mental health industry, you can work anywhere, because you're really thrown into the fire in terms of having to work with a whole host of people from all kinds of backgrounds," Ford said.

She said important priorities are ensuring equal access to all kids, and acknowledging that different students need different approaches when it comes to issues such as catching them up from COVID-19 education shortfalls and feeling included.

In response to a member of the oppositional slate's characterization of her involvement in Black Lives Matter movement protests in the past as "extreme," Ford said she disagreed with that characterization.

"I support lifting marginalized people and voices," Ford said. "I have participated in peaceful demonstrations attended by local families.

"Many children have been in attendance at these gatherings, in spite of two gentlemen who showed up in protest with fatigues and guns. That was very extreme."

She said she hopes to work with others to find consensus and satisfaction among board members, trying not to focus on the heightened rhetoric or fear about candidates and policies surrounding school board races currently.

"We've experienced a lot of anger from many places, and it expresses itself in all different kinds of ways and I think people are exhausted with that," she said.

Additionally, she said there is a large concern for both students and teachers' mental health, and she wants to have conversations to determine important issues in district, and how to improve it.

On her website, Ford lists that she actively volunteers through her church, where she is a licensed minister and acts as the outreach coordinator working with local charity efforts.

Kris DePaolo

DePaolo, chief executive officer of the Werner & Co. accounting firm in Lower Macungie Township, has two children in the district and said he wants to take his current board experience from serving as vice president at Camelot for Children to his family's school district.

He is running in the Your Voice on the Board slate under the Republican ticket.

He said the board needs "a little bit more" transparency with parents and educators, and sees teacher contracts as a large priority for the upcoming term.

He referred to the detracking issue as a key observation in the perceived lack of transparency and communication that he wants to mend.

In addition, he noted declining academics, safety in the classroom and fiscal responsibilities as primary focuses.

"I don't think this current board, with some of the decisions they've made and what they've done in these meetings, has the back of the current educators in the district," DePaolo said.

Kris DePaolo
Kris DePaolo
Kris DePaolo, candidate on the Your Voice on the Board slate.

"I think that's going to be a big topic that gets a bit more build-up as we get closer to the general election."

DePaolo said he plans to look at the budget with the board and director of finances and specifically wants to look at it in terms of school safety and learning.

He said he wants to see where the budget is at in terms of supporting measures such as resource officers in the district for safety both external threats and disciplinary issues within the school.

DePaolo cited survey efforts by the district regarding social issues as an example of a place where the district may not be putting its time and finances to the best use.

"I don't think we should be pushing some of the stuff that's being pushed on to some of these children now," DePaolo said. "Just get back to the basics of education."

He said he supports the Jasper program effort at Emmaus that will help children learn in a way they enjoy, and wishes to accelerate efforts to make the schedules of the district's two middle schools consistent.

Timothy Kelly

Pennridge School District mathematics and statistics teacher Timothy Kelly said he wants to find ways to help teachers, administrators and the district office communicate better.

He is running in the slate supported by Defend East Penn and the Lehigh County Democratic Committee under the Democratic ticket, but is a registered Republican.

"That's not happening to the extent that I think would build trust between them," Kelly said.

He said he believes his background in teaching high school-level classes and acting as a Fulbright teacher mentor can help the school develop engaging and technology-driven curriculums. He said the district now is a few years behind in terms of platform centralization and use.

"As a parent, I shouldn't be getting communication from email from Seesaw and also checking Schoology," he said. "There's just too many sources, and those are easy fixes that nobody's talking about."

Tim Kelly
Tim Kelly
Tim Kelly, who is running on the mixed slate of incumbents and newcomers.

He said that despite that, he thinks district teachers are phenomenal and he's really proud of the district, which his six children attend.

Mostly, he said, he wants to offer suggestions on technology and processes that can be improved.

He also praised the social inclusivity measures the administration has taken and the financial position of the school, but emphasized the importance of planning for and managing projected growth.

Kelly noted support of the Defend East Penn efforts during the primaries.

"I'm happy with this [Valley Voices] PAC," Kelly said. "These are people that are concerned about the community. They're also concerned about some of the national pushes, too, that are anti-education."

Pennridge School District in Bucks County, where Kelly teaches, has embraced policies prohibiting staff from engaging in "advocacy activities" on school grounds, including displaying anything "advocating" to students about “religion, sexual orientation, geopolitical and gender identity, social, political and geo-political matters” when not “applicable to the curriculum.”

A policy adopted in 2021 at the district limited access to books and educational resources related to gender identity, and removed its district-wide diversity, equity and inclusivity initiatives.

Lawrence Huyssen

Huyssen, the youngest candidate in the field, is a 2015 Emmaus High School graduate and a banker at Commonwealth Federal Credit Union.

He is running in the Your Voice on the Board slate under the Republican ticket.

He said the area is where he had met his fiancée and his close friends, making it have a special place in his heart.

He said he believes he provides an interesting perspective that other board members don't, having known many of the current teachers as a student and having siblings still in the district.

"I like to think that I can still kind of engage with the students in a level that they understand more," Huyssen said. "I wanted to bridge the gap between administration, students [and] teachers."

He said he wants to improve communication among those groups and get more financial education in the district.

Huyssen said he spent the first 15 years of his life in the Philippines while his parents served as missionaries while attending an international school modeled after the U.S. public school system.

Lawrence Huyssen
Lawrence Huyssen, candidate on the Your Voice on the Board slate.

He said his No. 1 issue is school safety, especially when it comes to interactions between students and teachers and preventing fights in the district such as he saw when he was there.

He said he supports the increased use of police resource officers in the school if the budget would allow it and examines the possibility of increased mental health services, which he said is stretched thin.

He said East Penn always has been a top-tier district and he still believes that, but that there should be more to make sure more is done for students affected by the pandemic to help them catch up.

He said the detracking issue is something he was very concerned about, and said it's a sensitive balance that needs to be met and more should have been done to explain it to the public and teachers.

Since the primary, he also noted the inclusion of Lower Macungie Middle School on the state's TSI list as an indicator that "there needs to be a change."

He said overcrowding in the district already was an issue by the time he was attending, and focus needs to be put on ensuring classroom sizes are at the right level so teachers are not overworked.

Gabrielle Klotz

"I want to run because I love East Penn," said Klotz, vice president of Lower Macungie Middle School PTA and a property casualty insurance agent.

She is running in the slate supported by Defend East Penn and the Lehigh County Democratic Committee under the Democratic ticket, and says it is a benefit to run as a bipartisan slate to get different viewpoints and have productive discussions.

Klotz said she moved to East Penn just more than two years ago and fell in love with Emmaus and East Penn. She said her daughter has thrived in the district, is challenged academically and the current administration has been very supportive.

Gabrielle Klotz
Gabrielle Klotz
Gabrielle Klotz, who is running on the mixed slate of incumbents and newcomers.

That makes her want to be part of it, she said.

She said a goal of hers is to help the district continue its growth toward being more inclusive "to all of our children, regardless of their gender, their socio-economic status, their race, their religion — anything like that."

Some students, she said, do not feel fully supported and noted some vocal community members have spoken out about transgender students in the school as a reason for that.

Klotz said safety also is a priority for her. She said more mental health initiatives are needed as a step to prevent violence in the district, tying into her desire for greater inclusivity.

She said her daughter is affected by the education detracking decision, and hopes to see that process go well for the students in the upcoming year.

Klotz said that from watching budget meetings, she thinks the district seems to be as fiscally responsible as it can be in the face of rising costs, and she would reach out to experts and the community to continue to educate herself about what is needed.

Klotz said that concern that what happened at Pennridge could happen in East Penn is part of what prompted her to run.

"I think that there is a vocal part of the community that is against [transgender] individuals," Klotz said. "I find that distressing, so I would like to work to make sure that our children know that they are accepted."

In regards to the rhetoric about extremism and outside influence in the race, she said she did not want to make a comment.

"It is a very important race," Klotz said. "And as far as extremism goes, I'll let everybody else battle that out, talk about whatever. What I will say about myself is what you see is what you get with me."