On Wednesday, an employee for a contractor working on the Maplewood school buildings posted a picture of a library display on Facebook.
The display, a selection of books for Pride Month, included books about LGBTQ+ education.
David Valesky, a PENNCREST School District board member, on Wednesday shared the following post, adding his own caption.
“Besides the point of being totally evil, this is not what we need to be teaching kids. They aren’t at school to be brainwashed into thinking homosexuality is okay. It’s actually being promoted to the point where it’s even ‘cool,’” Valesky wrote in his post.
In a separate social media post, school board member Jeff Brooks offered a differing opinion from Valesky. In his post, Brooks said, “I guess since other board members feel free to comment and call homosexuality ‘totally evil’ and say kids shouldn’t know its ok to be gay, I will jump in. Being gay isn’t new, it’s not even new at Maplewood. I went to school with LGBT people. I know one kid lured to the backwoods to get the crap beat out of him for being gay at MHS. People have always been gay. It’s not a movement. It’s not a fad. We’ve always had books in the library about gay people. We have always stomped our feet and clapped our hands to the gay anthem — We are the Champions. We teach about Alexander the Great and love the painting of the last supper.”
According to PENNCREST Superintendent Timothy Glasspool, the display was nothing out of the ordinary.
“Librarians typically design book displays with seasonal, cultural, athletic, holiday, historic and similar timely themes throughout the school year,” he wrote in an email responding to questions about the social media posts.
The theme for the books in question was for Pride Month in June. The books have been on display since May 3, because the libraries “begin closing procedures after Memorial Day.”
Speaking to the nature of the comments, Glasspool responded that the district is committed to providing a place of education for all students.
“Our staff is determined to offer a safe learning environment for all students. As a public school, we teach tolerance and celebrate diversity.”
The Herald reached out to all board members with several questions pertaining to the nature of the posts, the boards intentions and how board members felt about the comments Valesky made.
In an email to The Herald, Valesky stood by his remarks.
“I make no apology for what I posted on social media. I am a Christian. I believe homosexuality is wrong in the sight of God. I do not hate gays. I never indicated that in any way. I do not believe homosexual books or clubs have any place in our schools. If they want to have a club outside of school that is up to them, but to push this agenda to our children in a public school is not the place or purpose of public education. The purpose of public education is to teach kids skills for life, and to be responsible and productive citizens.”
Board member Luigi DeFrancesco also shared the same Facebook post as Valesky, but without comment. DeFrancesco has since deleted his post.
DeFrancesco told The Herald that the focus of the story should not be about Valesky’s remarks.
“Instead of stressing Valesky’s opinion, you should take the opportunity to inform the public about the power of taking pictures of events that shape people’s opinions.
For example, if no one had taken a picture of a police officer whose knee was pressing against (George Floyd) Floyd’s throat, history would have been different. Some one happened to go by these books and took a picture with his cell phone and without knowing the facts, he posted on Facebook with what he perceived the message to be. Do you see any difference between this event as it occurred and Floyd’s unfortunate event? There is a story here but it is on the power of cell phones.”
School Board Director Jennifer Davis also offered comments about Valesky’s post.
In an email to The Herald, Davis said, “This matter becoming a social media mess is completely out of line with what we, as a district, wish to see for our students. EVERY SINGLE STUDENT within our community deserves to feel accepted and safe when they enter our buildings. I believe that we, as school board directors, have a responsibility to make decisions for the community as a whole.
We are a public school and need to provide resources and support for all of our youth. We have policies in place to ensure this. The books in question do not violate those policies.
Mr. Valesky’s comment was inappropriate and unprofessional. I am certain that seeing the adults’ negative interactions on social media has been hurtful. My hopes are that our students realize that most of us are behind them and find hateful rhetoric on social media to be wrong and counterproductive.”
Not only did Valesky’s post lead to multiple comments with people weighing in on the matter, it also prompted a petition for his removal.
Former PENNCREST student and Saegertown graduate, Class of 2013, Melanie Weed decided to take matters into her own hands.
Weed self-described themself as queer — some people who call themselves queer may do so because they find other labels inaccurate or restrictive — and was upset over the comments made.
They decided to take the matter into their own hands, and created a petition for the removal of Valesky and DeFrancesco from the PENNCREST board.
“I don’t believe people who spew hateful rhetoric, like that which got Matt Shepard tortured, should be in charge of making decisions for children, especially queer children,” said Weed.
Weed believes that getting the two members off the board is a good first step, but not a solution to addressing what LGBTQ+ students face in PENNCREST schools.
As of Friday afternoon, Weed’s petition had over 1,200 signatures. They contacted Crawford County Voter Services about how many signatures would be needed for removal and what the next steps would be. Weed said that the board told them that they are having a solicitor look into the matter.
Weed said that during their time at Saegertown that kids treated them and other LGBTQ+ kids poorly.
“Kids are gonna be mean,” they said. However, when the hateful comments come from adults, and adults in power positions, they knew something had to be done.
“A grown man should be held accountable for what he said,” said Weed.
Weed plans on addressing Valesky’s comments at the next PENNCREST School Board of Directors meeting in June.
Valesky had said he also plans on addressing the issue of the books on display at the meeting.
The next PENNCREST school board meeting is to held on June 14 at 7 p.m.
Dvorkin can be reached by email at Gdvorkin@titusvilleherald.com.