Local attorney claims PENNCREST School Board actions contradict legal arguments

By Brennen McWright, editor in chief

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few months, you’ve undoubtedly heard of PENNCREST’s Policy 109.2, which was passed earlier this month, effectively taking books out of the library. Brian Cagle, an attorney at Pepicelli, Youngs and Youngs PC and involved in an ongoing legal case against the District*, has seemingly found an important contradiction of the School Board’s own words.

“On Oct. 12, 2022, the Commonwealth Court, sitting en banc (Seven judges instead of their normal three-judge panels because the issue was so significant), heard oral argument on the School Board’s appeal of the prior two decisions stating that the Board had to disclose the requested Facebook posts between the Board Members regarding books on display at Maplewood,” Cagle said. “Part of the School District’s argument to the Court was that the Board Members did not have the legal authority to ban books.”

George Joseph was solicitor for PENNCREST School Board on Oct. 12, 2022, and spoke on behalf of the Board during the oral arguments. He resigned his position on Jan. 20.

When asked by Judge Ellen Ceisler about the Board’s legal authority, Joseph responded with the statement “How is the School Board going to address that content [the books on display at the Maplewood library] without violating the court decisions on viewpoint discrimination? The library books are already in the library… as resources for students. It can’t be a question of whether we are going to remove the books or not remove the books… Can the Board take action to do that? My answer is no.” 

Cagle maintains that the passing of Policy 109.2 is viewpoint discrimination, a First Amendment idea that disallows the passing of legislation that targets specific viewpoints.

“The government can say LED signs are prohibited near roads because they can blind or distract drivers,” Cagle said. “The government cannot say LED signs opposing Democrats are prohibited near roads. That type of restriction is based solely on the content of the message, rather than the intrinsic characteristics of the sign.”

Cagle claims that the PENNCREST School Board is acting opposite a legal statement made by the Board in order to target a specific viewpoint.

“It is illuminating that the School Board has now taken action that it said was unconstitutional and outside of its authority,” Cagle said. “The position stated above was not by one or two School Board members. This was a position taken by the person representing the entire School Board as a whole.”

Cagle stressed that he was sure that Joseph committed no wrongdoings.

“I do not believe that the District Solicitor did anything wrong. I do not believe he lied to the Court regarding the law or the School Board’s position.”**

PENNCREST School Board president Luigi DeFrancesco believes no legal harm will befall the District.

“I do not believe there will be any lawsuit due to recent federal court decisions,” *** DeFrancesco said.

*In December 2021, the Crawford County Court decided against PENNCREST School District in a case regarding PENNCREST School Board member David Valesky’s comments about an LGBTQ+ display at Maplewood High School. PENNCREST appealed the decision, and on Oct. 12, 2022, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania heard oral arguments from both PENNCREST and the plaintiff, Thomas Cagle. You can read the document here (pages 24-26 are the most relevant).

**On January 22, Cagle filed an Application for Relief on behalf of his father Thomas Cagle in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania outlining the need to “supplement the record due to changes in material facts” in the case of PENNCREST School District v. Thomas Cagle. You can read the document here:

***DeFrancesco referenced this United States District Court decision from the Eastern District of Missouri.

The Panther Press will continue to provide additional updates as they become available.

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