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NEVER AGAIN: PA school district faces backlash over Holocaust censorship

NEVER AGAIN: PA school district faces backlash over Holocaust censorship

NEVER AGAIN: PA school district faces backlash over Holocaust censorship

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A Pennsylvania school district is facing backlash after forcing a high school librarian to remove posters with a quote from Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel.

Two days before Holocaust Remembrance Day, the principal at Central Bucks High School South told the school’s librarian, Matt Pecic, that the posters were in violation of the District’s new policy, ordering the school system employee of 31 years to remove a total of four posters with the quote.

Along with his union representative, Pecic met with the head of the high school who informed the librarian that human resources would be contacted should he fail to adhere to Central Bucks’ policy against “advocacy activities”.

“It was his understanding there would be ‘consequences’ if not followed,” PBS and NPR media affiliate, WHYY News, wrote.

“If I didn’t take it down, I knew there would be consequences that could impact me,” he said – adding that he felt “powerless.”

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The quote Pecic used was taken from a 1986 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, where the award-winning author warned of the consequences of remaining silent in the face of oppression – and the importance of taking a stand.

I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.

In early January, the Central Bucks School Board implemented a new policy preventing teachers from displaying materials related to “religion, sexual orientation and gender identity, social political and geo-political matters,” when not explicitly related to curriculum, otherwise known as “advocacy activities.”

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Central Bucks Superintendent Abe Lucabaugh told WHYY that the school district’s policy is meant to foster an inclusive learning environment for its students, adding that educators should be “teaching all sides of an issue.”

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In a letter to the school district, the Education Law Center criticized the new policy and its potentially negative impact on the district’s LGBTQ students as evidenced at the nearby Pennridge High School.

“We urge the Board to reject Policy 321 as written because it is overbroad, discriminatory, and is plainly intended to chill educators’ support for LGBTQ students,” ELC wrote.

A day after receiving social media backlash, the principal reversed his decision.

But it was what happened next, that would draw praise from Central Bucks South’s diverse student body.

Pecic papered the entire entrance to the library with Wiesel’s quote.

“Everyone loves Mr. Pecic in our school,” 17-year-old Alex Dash said. “So once you see Mr. Pecic hanging up all these posters, this makes this a hot issue among the student body.

“He’s helping move the masses and those people who were previously neutral on the situation,” the Central Bucks South student and Jewish Student Union member, added.

Although the issue in this case isn’t LGBTQ related, the school’s students see Mr. Pecic’s actions as a win for the marginalized community.

Openly gay 17-year-old Ben Busick considers the longtime district employee as an ally.

I’m not defended. These sorts of policies are making it harder for the teachers that care to actually defend students like me and my peers, which is exemplified with this whole situation with Mr. Pecic.

This isn’t Central Bucks School District’s first brush with controversy over its policies.

In October of last year, the U.S. Department of Education announced it would be investigating a complaint filed by the ACLU of Pennylvania against the school system for what the civil rights organization says creates a “hostile,” educational environment for the district’s LGBTQ students for what the group says are “discriminatory” district policies, behaviors and directives.

The lawsuit, however, failed to prevent Central Bucks from moving forward with its recently adopted new measures.

Though the principal eventually walked back his orders, the ordeal was particularly emotional for Pecic because it was his ninth-grade daughter who initially sent him the quote.

“This is where I get choked up,” he said. “This quote reminds me of you.”

A staunch advocate for his students, Pecic refers to himself as someone not likely to stay quiet if he believes something is not in the best interest of the kids.

“I will say something,” he said.

Regional director for the Anti-Defamation League, Andrew Goretsky, fears that discriminatory policies like the ones facilitated by Central Bucks will have an adverse effect on the ability of the district’s K-12 students to express themselves freely which could impact the learning process.

A public relations firm hired by the school district released a statement seeking to turn the temperature down on the situation.

“The district apologizes for any hurt or concern this caused, particularly for those in the Jewish community.”

Though the issue was ultimately resolved, Mr. Pecic expressed his disappointment that it happened at all.

“It’s a horrible feeling. And you feel like you have to do something that you don’t agree with,” he said.

Original reporting by Emily Rizzo at WHYY News. 

Follow Ty Ross on Twitter @cooltxchick

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Ty Ross
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