A parent’s right to advocate

The question posed is this: Does a parent’s right to advocate for his or her child cross geopolitical boundaries?

For Claude Albert, who has a son at CF Patton Middle School in the Unionville-Chadds Ford District, the answer is an absolute yes. But Albert was not allowed to address the school board during the Dec. 6 meeting because he lives in New Jersey, not in the district, nor does he pay taxes to the district. But his son and ex-wife live in Chadds Ford.

Claude Albert said he wanted to address the school board directors regarding the use of masks because his 12-year-old son has been suffering under the mandate.

In an email he sent to all school board directors — including board President Jeff Hellrung — Superintendent of Schools John Sanville and to Patton Principal Steve Disinger on Nov. 15, Albert said his son “is experiencing frequent onset headaches, shortness of breath, anxiety, and decline in cognitive performance all of which are listed in the peer-reviewed study as long-term health consequences of prolonged use of face masks. He reports that if he lowers his mask when he is out of breath, he is admonished by members of your staff.”

In a telephone interview, Albert said Disinger responded “professionally” but couldn't say the same for Hellrung or Sanville.

“Principal Dissinger sent me the exemption form and has been forthcoming and professional about everything. John Sanville and Jeff Hellrung have, in my humble opinion, been obstinate and inflexible,” Albert later added in a subsequent email. 

The district has a policy, Policy 903, regarding public comment during school board meetings. Under guidelines, it states: “The Board requires that public participants be residents or taxpayers of this district. Others may be recognized at the discretion of the presiding officer.”

Despite having the discretion to allow Albert to speak, Hellrung did not allow Albert to speak and told him in an email not to bother driving in from New Jersey. 

“I thought it best to enforce the policy as written and didn't see a good reason to override the general policy, nor did he ask me to do that,” Hellrung said in an email to Chadds Ford Live. “I thought I was doing him a favor by letting him know in advance that he wasn't eligible to speak at the meeting, thereby saving him a long, two-way drive if that was his main purpose in coming. He's shown that he is very capable of communicating with us by email. We try to follow policy strictly, neither giving special favors or taking any discretionary actions against anyone.”

Hellrung was also asked if a parent’s right to advocate for his or her child stopped at a border. He said he favors a change in Policy 903 that would allow non-resident parents to speak at the meetings.

“I do favor that, and I expect to see that change proposed as part of our ongoing work revising that policy. The recent court ruling against the Pennsbury School Board on that policy needs to be taken into account in our revision. Our solicitor is advising us on that. I expect to see a proposed revision to Policy 903 soon,” he said.

Sanville has not yet responded to a request for comment.

There is good news, however, according to Albert. After getting the exemption forms from Disinger, the Alberts were able to get the exemption so their son could go to school without the mask. But despite the exemption, at least one other parent is still bothered by Albert being denied the chance to address the board.

Gabi Asendorf, of Chadds Ford, who also has a sixth-grader at Patton said, "According to the board's own policy, if a person is not a resident, the school board officer can still allow them to speak. Why did Mr. Hellrung choose not to allow this parent to speak in public? Mr. Albert is still the parent of a child in the school district even if not a local resident. This was an opportunity to listen publicly to a father with concerns about his child and Mr. Hellrung chose to silence him instead. As a divorced parent myself, not allowing Mr. Albert to speak impacted me, compelled me to get this on the record. If I didn't live in the same school district as my children, I would be deeply distressed being denied the right to speak publicly about my children's welfare by a school board president."

About Rich Schwartzman

Rich Schwartzman has been reporting on events in the greater Chadds Ford area since September 2001 when he became the founding editor of The Chadds Ford Post. In April 2009 he became managing editor of ChaddsFordLive. He is also an award-winning photographer.

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